Navy, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe dispute past, future of oyster beds in Bangor
BANGOR?— How to measure the success of a?recent oyster harvest by the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe within the security fence?of Naval Base Kitsap on the shore of Hood Canal? It depends on who you ask.?
The Navy boasted in a news release?that the April 1-2 harvest produced 6,300 oysters and is a part of its work "with the?tribes to ensure the Navy’s operations are conducted with minimal impact to Washington’s natural resources and environment."
But the?S'Klallam Tribe did not see it that way. In a statement to the Kitsap Sun, the tribe said the Navy's release contained inaccuracies, and?the tribe?raised?concern over?the health of the beach where the harvest took place, saying it's?at risk because of?the upcoming construction of a new pier and trestle.?
"These facilities threaten the tribe's ability to practice its treaty right" of harvesting oysters and clams at Devil's Hole, the tribe said.?
The Navy's April 9?news release?pointed out the beach, just south of the Delta Pier,?is "managed exclusively"?by the Skokomish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes. But its headline said the Navy?had "hosted" the tribe?at the beach, which the tribe said?was a mischaracterization.?
"The Navy did not 'host'?the tribal harvest," the tribe said,?"They granted access to the beach so tribal members could exercise their guaranteed treaty rights."
Naval Base Kitsap spokesman Chris Stanis said the Navy "meant no disrespect for their treaty rights."?
"We understand the importance of aquaculture for the tribes here, and we respect their rights to areas like?Devil's Hole," he said.?"Our Navy team is in communication with them?to ensure we hear and find solutions to their concerns."?
The tribe?said in a statement to the Kitsap Sun that it "values and appreciates its relationship with the Navy" and that it will continue to work to "mitigate impacts" that could damage Devil's Hole and the environment of Puget Sound.?
But the episode exposed the divide and how the sides will approach the upcoming $89 million Navy pier and trestle construction project, which aims to build a new home for the vessels that guard the ballistic missile submarines as they traverse local waters to the Pacific Ocean.?
Devil's Hole agreement dates back a quarter-century
An agreement governing the harvest and management at Devil's Hole at?Bangor?was signed in 1996 by the tribe and Navy. The Navy recognized the tribe's treaty rights to fish and harvest shellfish at?the base. But given high security around the?submarines, the tribe agreed to submit dates and provide names of participants in harvests to grant clearance.?
"Whenever an access request for a specific date has been denied on the basis of national security, the tribe has been able to work with naval personnel on an alternative date," the tribe said.?"This has been the process for going on 25 years."?
But for about the last?decade, reduced populations of both clams and oysters have led to few harvests. The April event was the first harvest of oysters since 2013, the tribe said.?
Both the Port Gamble S'Klallam and Skokomish tribes have been paying for seeding and enhancement efforts to help the oyster and clam populations. But so far, there are no definitive answers as to why oyster and clam populations appear to be struggling there, the tribe said.?
New pier could be a problem, tribe says
The $89 million "Transit Protection Pier" and trestle?project aims to construct?a?new pier, boat maintenance facility and fueling station for vessels providing?security for the country's ballistic missile submarines. Eight of the country's 14?nuclear weapon-tipped?Ohio class subs are home at Bangor?— specifically, at the Delta Pier, just north of the Devil's Hole oyster and clam beds.?
The project made headlines during the Trump Administration as the president attempted to divert millions from military construction projects around the world, including the new pier, to bolster funding for a wall at the U.S. southern border. But a judge struck down the administration's attempt, clearing the way for the project to continue.?
The nearest?portion of the shellfish beds is about 200 feet north from the site of the proposed pier, according to the Navy's environmental impact assessment of the project. The beds would remain open for harvests throughout the project, and "construction and operation of the proposed pier would not affect the clams or oysters, or interfere with sediment transport/supply processes that could affect shellfish habitat," the assessment states.?
The tribe disputes that assessment.?
"We are concerned about the effects of turbidity, accidental spills and releases," the tribe said. "The proposed (pier) would involve the pumping of fuel, sanitary and oily waste over a period of decades near the tribe's shellfish harvest beach, increasing the risk of water quality degradation in shoreline areas with spills and releases during these activities."
The environmental assessment does acknowledge shoreline development in Hood Canal, like piers at Bangor, "is contributing to cumulative, regional alterations of beach habitat and changes in sediment deposition and erosion patterns." But it adds the Navy "has also initiated actions to preserve subtidal habitat in other portions of Hood Canal that could offset cumulative impacts from this shoreline development."
Stanis, spokesman for Naval Base Kitsap, said a water-quality monitoring plan that's approved by the state's Department of Ecology will help to minimize disturbing seafloor sediment during construction. The tribe has concerns about pile driving during the project, and Stanis said various actions, including a silt curtain, will be deployed to try to prevent turbidity. Following construction, bilge and gray water systems?will remove waste from vessels there and no refueling operations will take place at the pier itself. Floating booms will also "be deployed around the vessels to capture material that may accidentally spill into the water," he said.?
Negotiations about those concerns are ongoing between the Navy and tribe. The project is currently under review by the Army Corps of Engineers. The tribe is concerned that the Navy didn't evaluate directly?impacts to Devil's Hole, both to the habitat or human health relating to consuming shelfish there once the pier is built.???
"It would only take one spill ...?to damage the tribal shellfish beach for harvesting potentially permanently," the tribe said.