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Gorst getting facelift

The least-photogenic part of the county is due for a green-washing, thanks to a county push toward cleaning up Kitsap’s messy industrial past.

When Kitsap County first approved $250,000 last year to seek out the five worst industrial sites in the county for potential clean up, the expectation was five mini master plans would be necessary — one for each.

However, when consultants from Bremerton-based Parametrix narrowed the original list of 500 “brownfields” to a short-list of 20, a definite pattern emerged — six of the 20 sites judged to be the most polluted were located in or around Gorst. When the final list of seven was established, five of those six Gorst sites were included.

Therefore, the county has opted to consider the five Gorst sites — the former Bremer Lumber Mill, Fred Hills Materials, Pioneer Towing, Independent Asphalt and a former lumber mill near Viking Fence — under a single proposed clean-up plan.

The other two sites — the former Vockrodt Dump and a section of Charleston Beach Road — are both in Bremerton and will each have its own mini-plan.

“(The county) wanted to see something that was visible,” said Parametrix consultant Peter Battuello. “Visibility was big criteria.”

Many consider the five Gorst sites, which all sit on Highway 3 or State Route 16, to be almost painfully visible. Indeed, Battuello said many business owners have said the primary reason they do not relocate to Kitsap County is because of the perceived stain of Gorst.

“All roads lead to Gorst,” Battuello said, referencing the community’s location at the major crossroads of the county.

Although the purpose of the Brownfields Plan was to identify sites which needed to be cleaned up before they could be reclaimed as developable land, Parametrix has something much difference in mind for Gorst.

Because the five sites also sit either on Sinclair Inlet or in its watershed, Parametrix has proposed returning the five properties to their natural states as part of a Sinclair Inlet restoration program.

The tidal flats of Sinclair Inlet just off Gorst have taken a beating over the last century. Businesses and private citizens have used the flats as a dumping ground for everything from household garbage to car parts. In fact, the Port of Bremerton originally bought the flats in the 1960s for the purpose of turning them into a container shipping port.

“That was long before shoreline planning and environmental laws,” said port Commissioner Bill Mahan, who represents the Gorst area. “People were looking at things a lot differently.”

To illustrate this mindset, Mahan spoke of his first year on the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners when he suggested turning that end of the inlet into and land fill and run a highway connecting Highway 3 and State Route 16 across it. Although part of the inlet — the portion which later became Elandan Gardens — was already being used as a landfill, angry Gorst residents swamped Mahan’s office with letter opposing his suggestion.

“I learned one thing fast,” he said. “When, in politics, you have a dumb idea, you stand up and say it was a dumb idea real fast.”

In the process, much of the natural habitat for myriad birds, fish and other shoreline-dependent animals was destroyed or rendered unviable.

“The mud looks like its absolutely desolate out there, but it’s a salmon nursery,” said salmon habitat expert Pat McCullough “It’s an area that’s just incredibly rich in food.”

Now, the port, county and other public and private interests are trying to recreate the web of mud, channels, mollusk beds and other elements which would allow the inlet ecosystem to thrive again. The port even proposed re-digging channels in previously graded and reinforced shoreline to give vulnerable salmon smolt a place to hide.

“The estuary is one of the most important parts of the whole salmon equation,” McCullough said.

Parametrix also proposes blazing nature trails through the reclaimed property around the inlet, linking wildlife viewing sites and creating a more inviting path for the future Mosquito Fleet Trail to travel through Gorst.

A “dream plan” expands the notion of reclamation to include all property east of the highway, creating a wild area cut only by walking paths and offering a more aesthetically pleasing counterpoint to Gorst’s concrete jungle west of the highway.

However, because this alternative would involve relocating several businesses — including a car dealership — Battuello admits the idea is unlikely to get off the ground.

The port will likely be the first agency to start work in Gorst. The port commissioners voiced their support for the plan at their March 27 meeting. The process is also streamlined because the port will be working on its own property, although it will need state approval to make any changes to the portion designated a right-of-way.

No one at the port is waiting for the state to step forward to make the changes, even though the right-of-way constitutes most of the shoreline between the port’s property and Toys Topless — shoreline littered with decades-old detritus.

“It doesn’t seem that WashDOT’s willing to do anything these days,” McCullough said.

The port’s portion of the reclamation project is estimated to cost a little over $375,000. It owns much of the inlet’s northern shoreline and the former lumber mill property. An estimate for the entire plan is not yet available — Battuello said its success depends largely on whether the owners of the selected properties take an active interest.

However, he said so far responses have been mostly positive. A few who own private property by Gorst Creek have even come forward offering to donate their land for re-naturalization.

“We are as close as we’ve ever been with real, tangible projects,” Battuello said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there. It would be a pity to see the talk continue.

Even so, Battuello does not envision the Gorst proposal as being an overnight solution. All stakeholders have yet to be established and no funding has been yet set aside for anything beyond conceptual planning — the portion of the project which was just completed. It is expected the full project will take a minimum of five to 10 years to complete — assuming those involved agree to work together and things go relatively smoothly.

“This is not something that’s going to happen in one fell swoop,” Battuello said.

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