Proposed settlement reached to restore habitats in Port Gamble Bay

The Port Gamble Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council has reached a proposed settlement, now available for public comment, that would require building two habitat restoration projects worth nearly $10 million. The two projects will restore 20 acres of critical habitat and protect about 10 more acres within Port Gamble Bay on the Kitsap Peninsula.

For 142 years, starting in 1853, Pope & Talbot, Inc. and its successor companies operated a sawmill at the mouth of the bay. The mill shut down in the 1990s, leaving contamination at the site. The property was then used for log sorting, wood chipping, and other light industrial activities. After years of planning and cleanup work, the in-water portion of the former mill site is recovering.

In addition to cleanup, under state and federal law, polluters may be liable for helping restore natural resources — such as shellfish, fish, birds, and their habitats — that were harmed by contamination.

This is where a natural resource trustee council comes in. Trustee councils consist of state and federal agencies and tribal governments, and are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process to restore, replace, or protect the equivalent of the natural resources and habitats harmed by contamination. In Western Washington, hundreds of acres of habitat projects have been built due to natural resource damage settlements with polluters.

In 2014 the Port Gamble Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council was formed and includes the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, and Suquamish Tribes; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (representing the U.S. Department of the Interior) and the State of Washington (led by Ecology with assistance from Washington Departments of Fish & Wildlife and Natural Resources). Under federal and state laws, the Trustee Council has the authority to assess harm to natural resources and seek compensation for that harm to benefit the public.

The Trustee Council determined that hazardous substances released into the bay from mill operations and later activities were harmful to fish, shellfish, and migratory birds that feed, rest, and reproduce in the bay.

Restoration projects for Port Gamble Bay

Based on their assessment of natural resource injuries, the Trustee Council selected two restoration projects to create or improve habitat that will benefit fish, birds, shellfish, and other resources harmed by this contamination. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Pope Resources, OPG Properties LLC, and OPG Port Gamble LLC, will restore marine shoreline and riparian habitats traditionally used by Tribes for fishing, shell fishing, and other cultural activities. The projects are also intended to restore resources for the benefit of the public. Property restrictions will limit activities in these areas to conserve the habitat. These restoration activities will happen at the same time as the planned upland cleanup.

The first project will restore nine acres of shoreline at the old mill site. The shoreline will be regraded, asphalt and concrete will be removed, and native vegetation will be planted to restore beach and riparian habitats for shellfish, fish, and other animals.

The second project will include placing a thin layer of sand over eleven acres of mudflats in the western bay, and planting eelgrass over a ten-year period. Eelgrass provides essential habitat for many species of wildlife in the bay.

Comment period: June 20–July 22

Two documents are now available for public comment: a consent decree to settle natural resources damages liability and a Draft Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment. The comment periods are managed by two different agencies.

Consent decree

The consent decree proposes to resolve the defendants’ liability for injuries to natural resources from contamination at or from the former mill operations in Port Gamble Bay. Negotiated and agreed to by the members of the Trustee Council and the settling defendants, the consent decree identifies actions that the settling defendants must take to offset the harms caused by their mill operations in Port Gamble Bay.

You can review the Consent Decree at the U.S. Department of Justice website.

To comment on the Consent Decree, email or write to:

Assistant Attorney General
P.O. Box 7611
Washington, DC 20044–7611

Refer to United States of America, et al. v. Pope Resources, et al., D.J. Ref. No. 90–11–3–11025 in your comment.

Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment

The Trustee Council prepared a Draft Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment to document their selection of the proposed restoration option.

You can review the Draft Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment on the US Fish & Wildlife website.

Email comments on the Draft Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment to, or write to:

Jeff Krausmann
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Washington Fish and Wildlife Office
1009 College St. SE, Suite 215
Lacey, Washington 98503