Previously in this column space, I’ve talked about how my Tribe has lived in this area for thousands of years and has a deep connection to the Natural World. As such, we take our role as environmental stewards seriously and continue to rely on the land and the sea. All of our Tribal members depend on fishing or shell fishing in one capacity or another —whether for their direct income, subsistence, or cultural practices.
Our reservation is on the shore of Port Gamble Bay. All along the bay there are items that shouldn’t be there — cement blocks, car engines, scrap metal, boat scrap, fishnets, carpeting, tarp, ropes, piping, tires, abandoned vessels, wood pilings, just to name some of the items.
These items are scattered on bay beaches on and off the reservation. While it would be great if we could get the people who made the mess to come clean it up, that’s not likely to happen. Though I think we can all agree that it needs to go.
In June, my Tribe kicked off a project focusing on the removal of debris from around Port Gamble Bay. The goal is to improve beach habitats for fish, shellfish, and local residents by removing derelict debris, including pilings and vessels throughout Port Gamble Bay.
This is a joint effort between our Tribe and the State Department of Ecology (DOE) and is being managed by our Natural Resources Department. Before this agreement, we were already working on a plan to remove debris from around the bay. As this effort merges well with DOE’s mission for the area, they asked to be our partner.
On June 14, we started work with a volunteer day at Point Julia. More than 50 people — tribal and non-tribal alike — showed up, ready to get dirty, and move what they could. By the end of the day, we had quite the pile of tires and other items that was ready to be hauled away.
Because of the vast array of items that need to be removed, various methods are being used. Whenever size and safety allows, the junk is being hauled out by hand by staff, volunteers, or temporary workers hired specifically for this project. Larger items are being removed by heavy equipment, such as cranes or boom trucks, or by barges or small watercraft.
For months, we have been reaching out to landowners around the bay offering to haul away any debris on their shoreline property. Of the 55 homeowners we’ve targeted, almost half have given their permission. We’re hoping to reach many more.
This project will also include the removal of the dock at Point Julia, which has grown structurally unsafe and is also supported by pilings contaminated by creosote. Because of the toxic nature of creosote, the removal of these pilings presents special challenges.
We expect the work to take down the pier will be done by the end of the year. Per our agreement with DOE, all of the work under this project must be completed by next June.
I should mention that this project is different than the larger toxics cleanup of Port Gamble Bay that DOE is overseeing. While the two projects are separate, their combined efforts represent a holistic approach to the cleanup of the bay.
We’re almost done with Phase 1 of the project, which focuses on cleaning up the beaches on the reservation. Coming up next, along with the pier removal, will be a focus off the reservation on private land.
If you’re a private home landowner with shoreline on Port Gamble Bay and are interested in participating in the Debris Removal Program, please contact Ahmis Loving at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-297-6353 or Shallee Baker at email@example.com or 360-297-6287.
—Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.