Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a regular column by members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, based in Little Boston.
Here in Kitsap County, we live in one of the most beautiful and scenic areas of Washington State. Sadly, though, while the outward picture is bright, sometimes there’s something ominous lurking beneath the surface.
Take for example Port Gamble Bay, one of Kitsap’s largest and most productive bays. On a sunny day the water sparkles and shines, never revealing the decades of pollution that have weakened this gem’s ecosystem. There are many causes for the havoc, but much of the bay’s toxic history can be traced back to the Pope & Talbot-owned sawmill, which employed many members of the tribe and operated on the banks of the bay for more than 150 years.
Soon after the mill split its first piece of wood in 1853, woody debris and harmful chemicals began being deposited into the sentiments. Throughout the mill’s lifetime, Port Gamble Bay became the unwilling home to a host of toxic chemicals leading to it becoming one of seven Puget Sound Initiative Cleanup sites.
While the mill closed in 1997 and some work has been done by Pope Resources and other entities to improve the situation, the specter of these noxious ghosts remain.
There is good news—Port Gamble Bay has proved itself to be naturally resilient. For example, it is the only bay remaining in Kitsap County and one of the last in Puget Sound still open for commercial and domestic shellfish harvesting. Port Gamble Bay has productive geoduck and shellfish populations and is home to one of the largest remaining herring stocks in the Puget Sound. Herring is a primary food source for chinook and resident orcas rely on the chinook. While the bay is productive, these species and the bay itself are still under stress. We can’t be lulled into complacency.
We need to do what we can now to protect Port Gamble Bay and Kitsap’s other waterways so they will continue to regain health and vitality. This means taking a critical look at development plans and weighing the short-term gains versus any long-term detriments.
For example, Olympic Property Group, a subsidiary of Pope Resources, has proposed building a dock on the shores of Port Gamble and is working with county officials on a major land swap that would significantly alter the bay’s shorelines. While there has been some work to minimize the anticipated environmental impacts, more needs to be done before our Kitsap County commissioners and we, as a community, embrace these projects.
While the bay has escaped becoming a dead waterway — despite decades of abuse — it is still in a precarious state. At this point, without restorative intervention, the bay simply cannot handle the strain of boating vessels and the environmental pollutants that are inherent with increased vessel traffic and other shoreline developments. This isn’t to say that all growth should be put on the back burner. We just need to make informed and responsible choices for our community’s environmental health.
Port Gamble Bay’s most important ally is you. This invaluable natural resource needs your help. Make your voice and opinion heard: Contact your Kitsap County commissioner or other local representatives and tell them that only sensible developments that carefully balance economic development with the environment should be considered
Port Gamble Bay is a very precious jewel. Once it’s gone, there’s little chance of bringing it back. Now is our opportunity; now is our chance. Let’s stand together and make a difference—for our families, future generations, and this stunning piece of the world we call home.
Jeromy Sullivan is the Tribal Chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.