Potlach Fund award honors all in cleanup efforts

Becently, I was notified by The Potlatch Fund — a nonprofit group serving Native communities — that I have been chosen to receive the Billy Frank Jr. Natural Resource Protection Leadership Honoring Award.

Becently, I was notified by The Potlatch Fund — a nonprofit group serving Native communities — that I have been chosen to receive the Billy Frank Jr. Natural Resource Protection Leadership Honoring Award.

I was humbled and honored by this news but, most importantly — at the dawn of the Port Gamble Bay cleanup — I am proud of my Tribe and its staff for all that’s been accomplished in protecting natural resources and our treaty rights.

I’ve used this space to talk about the importance of Port Gamble Bay as a cultural keystone. Not only does the bay connect our reservation to a known ancestral village at Port Gamble, but it is also an irreplaceable and historic harvesting location for clams, oysters, geoduck, steelhead and chinook.

In this column, I’ve also talked about the complicated relationship my Tribe has had with the former Port Gamble sawmill and its owners. The mill’s opening in the 1800s displaced the Klallam tribes. The band that would become the Port Gamble S’Klallams was moved to Point Julia. In return for our relocation, we were assured jobs at the mill — a promise that was kept for more than 140 years. As someone who has had family members support their families with paychecks from the Mill, I am grateful for this. Many other Port Gamble S’Klallam families — past and present — are, too; it was these jobs that, in part, made it so our Tribal members stayed together.

When I started working on Tribal Council more than 10 years ago, the mill had closed and the jobs were gone, but we were living with the ghosts of industry. Operating a sawmill is a messy business and more than a century of woody waste and other pollutants took their toll on our precious bay.

While protecting the bay has always been a priority, there’s been a sense of urgency placed on it over the last decade. Ongoing studies from our Natural Resources Department and other agencies have shown the need to cleanup the bay to make sure it stays an abundant resource for generations to come.

I was very lucky, from the start, to be working with a group of people who saw the importance of collaboration to solve this problem. From members of Tribal Council and Tribal staff to outside representatives and state agencies, everyone came together to try and work out a solution. I won’t lie and say it was easy — there were certainly a lot of disagreements and moments when I wondered if this would all work out.

On Aug. 11, the cleanup of Port Gamble Bay will begin. It will be managed by the state Department of Ecology in partnership with Pope Resources/Olympic Property Group.

The work will include the removal of approximately 70,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and wood waste, a derelict vessel and approximately 6,000 creosote pilings and overwater structures. This project represents the biggest creosote piling removal in Washington history.

All the parties involved have worked with our Tribe to make every effort to minimize impacts on fishing and shellfish harvesting. Plans are in place to handle increased vessel traffic in and out of the bay, as well as to make sure debris, such as rotting pilings, don’t get swept out into the bay.

In 2017, the cleanup will be complete and, over the next decade, DOE and Pope Resources/Olympic Property Group will regularly monitor the bay’s health. If natural restoration goals are not on track, steps will be taken to ensure success.

I want to thank everyone for their hard work: DOE, Pope Resources/Olympic Property Group, our representatives, environmental protection groups and many others. I especially want to thank my Natural Resources staff who have worked tirelessly to make sure this Tribe’s concerns were heard.

When I accept The Potlatch Fund award, I will be doing so for everyone who has worked so hard to make sure that my Tribe’s treaty rights in Port Gamble Bay will be protected. I hold my hands up to you in thanks and praise.

— Contact Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chairman Jeromy Sullivan at jeromys @pgst.nsn.us.