Meeting renews focus on Port Gamble dock proposal

An aerial photo displayed at the Port Gamble community meeting highlights the overwater structures that will be removed during cleanup of the bay and former mill site, and shows the location of a proposed new dock. (Photo courtesy Anchor QEA)

An aerial photo displayed at the Port Gamble community meeting highlights the overwater structures that will be removed during cleanup of the bay and former mill site, and shows the location of a proposed new dock. (Photo courtesy Anchor QEA)

The proprietor of the Port Gamble General Store and Café says a lot of customers ask him the same question.

They ask where they can tie up their boats, Eric Kleiva says. “They want to know, ‘how do we get to town from the water?’”

He was among a crowd of about 75 people who showed up for a recent meeting about a community dock that Pope Resources wants to build just a stone’s throw from the store and café Kleiva and his wife have run in Port Gamble since 2010.

Discussions about a new dock in the former milltown go back several years before that, as Olympic Property Group president Jon Rose reminded folks at the Nov. 7 information meeting hosted by OPG, a subsidiary of Pope Resources.

“Our first dock application was in 2006,” he said, when the state Department of Transportation asked Pope Resources about building a car ferry dock in Port Gamble for use while the nearby Hood Canal Bridge was closed.

That idea didn’t work out, and since then Pope has been unsuccessful in two previous attempts on its own to get approval for building a dock near the former sawmill on Port Gamble Bay, site of an ongoing operation to clean up the pollution caused by the Pope & Talbot mill that ran there for nearly 150 years until it closed in 1995.

Pope reached agreement with the state Department of Ecology earlier this year on a $19 million plan to complete an extensive cleanup of the bay and the old mill site. Rose said he hopes the formal consent decree will be signed by the end of the year, and the work is expected to take a few years. It will involve dredging huge amounts of wood waste, removing thousands of creosote pilings and tearing out all the overwater structures that were part of the mill.

“Now it’s 2013 and we have an agreed-upon cleanup plan,” Rose said, “so we’re moving forward with the dock plan we started working on in 2006.”

The proposed 365-foot dock would be built on the north side of the mill site and actually would be on Hood Canal, just outside the opening to Port Gamble Bay. The structure would include an abutment, pier, truss, and gangway, as well as a primary float, a seaplane float, and a kayak launching float.

The dock is a relatively small piece, though a crucial one, in Pope’s larger redevelopment plan for the town of Port Gamble to make it a tourism destination. That master plan — which envisions construction of about 200 houses, an agricultural component, and commercial/retail development including a waterfront hotel — has been submitted to Kitsap County. Rose said Pope is nearing completion of an environmental impact statement on the proposed development that will be submitted for review and public comment, with the first public hearing likely early in 2014.

The application for the dock, which also will be reviewed by state and federal permitting agencies, is being submitted separately.

“This is not a giant project, but it has been a giant controversy,” Rose said.

However, he said the company has revised its proposal in response to environmental concerns raised during Pope’s previous attempts to get a dock approved, and he’s confident that the outcome can be different this time.

The new plan calls for grated surfaces on the dock’s walkways so more light will reach the surface of the water below, which is helpful for underwater vegetation. The dock’s location also has been shifted slightly so that it extends over an area of deeper water, which mitigates some of the impact of shading. Also, the cleanup operation will remove about 2,000 creosote pilings from Port Gamble Bay and pilings for the new dock would be made of concrete and steel.

Rose’s presentation at the recent meeting included slides showing the relative size of other area docks — one at Alderbrook Resort on the south end of Hood Canal is 9,690 square feet, and the dock built a few years ago in Suquamish is 5,158, compared with the proposed Port Gamble dock that would be 4,796 square feet. He also noted that the mill cleanup will remove various overwater structures that cover a total of 80,700 square feet.

Perhaps most importantly for securing approval, Rose stressed that what Pope Resources plans to build will not be a marina.

“We have specifically limited ourselves to uses that won’t get it classified as a marina,” he said, because a marina designation would likely result in an automatic closure of shellfish harvesting in the area by the state health department.

Although he acknowledged that the dock could be used by tour boats up to about 100 feet in length, Rose said there will be restrictions on how many boats could be at the dock at one time, and it will not rent moorage slips.

“It’s going to be a marine terminal for transport and loading/unloading of goods, people, and services,” he said. “Port Gamble really needs some kind of functional dock, but we don’t need a marina.”

Besides the $19 million cleanup that will remove a sewer outfall into Hood Canal and build a septic system for the town, Rose noted that Pope has been a partner in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition’s efforts to acquire much of Pope’s timberland and preserve public access for recreational uses.

It all adds up, in his view, to a strong case for getting the new dock needed to help make Port Gamble — still a company-owned town — a viable waterfront community again.

“We’ve worked six years trying to get a bunch of public land so you can walk on it forever, and I hope you think we’ve turned the town into a gem,” Rose said in making his pitch to the mostly receptive audience at the recent meeting. “We’re taking a sewer outfall out, and I’m just wondering if anybody else thinks it’s not fair that we’re not getting a dock in a 150-year-old town?

Still, he knows the biggest obstacle is opposition from the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, and he expects an appeal if and when a dock permit is approved.

“We’re probably going to end up in court over all of it,” Rose said in an earlier interview. “I would anticipate the final decision on a dock will be made by a court.”

No representatives from the tribe were at the community meeting, and Rose said he’d hoped for a bigger turnout at the meeting since Pope sent invitations to all area property owners.

However, Rose did face one antagonistic questioner who accused Pope Resources of not caring about the environment and said the company should drop its asking price and sell Port Gamble to the S’Klallam — a suggestion that drew jeers from the crowd.

“We are not anti-tribal, and we are not anti-native rights,” Rose said after the angry challenger left. Despite some serious differences of opinion with the tribe, he said, “We just think we should be able to co-exist.”

Tim Kelly Dec 4 2013 Kitsap Business Journal

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