‘Port Gamble Predicament’ inches toward resolution

 

Last winter, I reported on the tangle of cultural and conservation challenges surrounding western Washington’s Port Gamble Bay, documenting how the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is in the final stages of a 160-year-long faceoff with Pope Resources. Pope is the corporate stepchild of a logging company that built a mill town called Port Gamble in the mid-19th century on a site that S’Klallam oral histories claim as an ancestral tribal village. Over time, the S’Klallam settled onto lands directly across the bay from the mill town, where they now have their reservation.

Pope still holds 6,700 acres of land on the surrounding Kitsap Peninsula, including bay shorelines and forests. Ready to move its operations elsewhere, it gave community conservation partners -- a coalition called the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project made up of state and local conservation groups, county interests, and the S’Klallam and the Suquamish tribes -- until this March to show they could buy the land, which is used by local hikers and which Pope has suggested it could subdivide for new homes.

Now, it appears the conservation effort is advancing. At the end of March, the partners announced they had met conditions to extend the purchase agreement with Pope and would keep fundraising through March 2014. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is also in early discussions with Pope about directly buying 1,780 acres adjacent to its reservation. Still, a hiccup in a plan to clean up Pope’s historic mill pollution in the bay may have cost the Forest & Bay Project some major funds.