Brownfields program could help tribe redevelop | Noo Kayet | May

In 2009, our Natural Resources Department was awarded a grant through the Environmental Protection Agency to assess potential Brownfields sites on and surrounding the reservation. This project is being led by Jessica Coyle, our EPA Response Program manager.

You may not be familiar with the term “Brownfields,” but as the name suggests, it’s a potentially dirty site; one that was likely once home to commercial or industrial facilities, but is now abandoned. These sites require environmental assessment and probable cleanup before being redeveloped. This process is called “land recycling” and allows for the preservation of already pristine areas by cleaning up and then reusing properties that were previously developed.

The EPA officially began recognizing Brownfields sites in 1992. In the United States alone, there are estimated to be 450,000 abandoned and contaminated sites that would likely qualify as Brownfields. Each year, the EPA is able to provide 300 grants to towns, tribes and cities.

With such competition, we feel especially privileged to be working with this program, which has allowed us to identify sites for assessment and potential remediation. These are areas that can have a direct impact on the health and safety of members of our community, wildlife, and the overall environment.

For the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe the importance of the Brownfields work lies not in redevelopment of lands, but in human health. Not only have many of our tribal families called this area home for generations, but they rely on natural resources, such as fish and shellfish from Port Gamble Bay, for sustenance.

We recently completed Phase 1 of the project, which included an assessment around Point Julia for something called Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs). Sometimes detecting potential contamination is as simple as a thorough sight and smell inspection. That’s how RECs are identified and it’s the first step required by the EPA towards developing a clean-up plan for Brownfields sites.

In our assessment we found creosote pilings—many of which were castoffs from industrial work done at Port Gamble—scattered throughout the site. An old pier that was once a community favorite during the summer months is coated in creosote and may have been treated in the past with arsenic products. Creosote and arsenic are carcinogenic to humans and may have a hand in causing certain types of cancers.

In all there are 20 sites on and around the reservation that are a part of our Brownfields assessments, including the old Pope & Talbot mill site, which as a part of its day-to-day operations released sources of contamination that impacted the surrounding waters and soil. We hope to continue working with the Brownfields program and have these sites cleaned up within the next few years.

Our work with Brownfields sites is just one component of our tribe’s larger initiative to secure our home and heritage for future generations. This includes work to protect and restore Port Gamble Bay as well as the Traditional Knowledge Project. The latter is in conjunction with Washington State University and serves to capture stories and oral history from our elders.

In the end, we hope through our various efforts we can give back some of what this area has provided for us: family, a way of life, and, most of all, a place to call home.

We welcome your feedback! If you’d like to comment on this process, please contact Jessica Coyle at

Paul McCollum is director of natural resources for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.