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Gorst restoration gets grant

After two years of talk, South Kitsap is finally going to see some action in the Gorst Estuary restoration project.

Last week, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners signed an agreement formally accepting a $671,000 Aquatic Land Enhancement Account grant — the last piece of the estimated $1.4 million needed to complete phase one of the project.

The ALEA money will join with brownfields grant money the county already has, plus a Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant obtained by the Port of Bremerton. In total, the money will be sufficient to purchase much of the undeveloped shoreline at the Gorst end of Sinclair Inlet and restore it to a wildlife sanctuary and viewing area.

After waiting for three years while the county planned and sought funding, “People are going to see a fury of activity all at one time,” said project manager Eric Baker.

The project was effectively launched when Gorst topped the list in a 2001 county study that identified the worst ex-industrial sites in Kitsap.

County officials opted to consolidate the five ranked “brownfields” 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 cleanup plan.

Realizing that many of these sites were also waterfront properties, the county tied in a previously conceived Gorst estuary restoration project and started seeking SRF Board and ALEA money to supplement the grants earned by the brownfields sites.

The plan was to clean up the industrial mess using brownfields money, then replant the area and put in nature walks using the other two funding sources. The combination would both make Gorst a nicer place to live, while at the same time benefit the hundreds of wildlife species that call the estuary home.

“When all this is complete, citizens of Kitsap County will have a contiguous area from which to view endangered wildlife,” Baker said. “There is a significant wildlife presence in Sinclair Inlet.”

The next step, he said, is to recruit a consultant with the experience to handle the two projects under one unified plan. All the different grants have their own rules for use, Baker explained, and it’s important to keep track at all times of what money is going where.

If the county selects a suitable consultant by January, as planned, Baker expects to start breaking ground on the first cleanup stages as early as this spring. He said much of the work needed to acquire the shoreline property is already underway — the county has its eye on pieces of five parcels, including the entire property which was once home to a sand and gravel operation. To get that parcel — a major link in the proposed greenbelt chain — Baker said the county is considering a deal that would give the property owner a similar parcel by the Port Orchard Airport in exchange.

The other land would be paid for by the ALEA grant.

ALEA money will also pay for the trails, boardwalks and informational kiosks the county plans to install on its new wildland.

Eventually, the county hopes the Gorst trails will become part of the larger Mosquito Fleet Trail now in the works. Looking 15 years out, Baker said, the county hopes to one day have the money to buy all the property in Gorst between State Route 16 and the water.

Granted, that would require displacing a number of businesses and therefore remains only a conceptual plan.

However, Baker said if phase one of the project is successful, Gorst could attract a lot of unprecedented attention from numerous state and federal agencies. With enough money and the cooperation of property owners, he continued, the whole inside of the “Gorst curve” could be completely restored to its original natural state.

“It’s very conceptual at the moment,” Baker said. “We’re not looking to relocate anyone in the near future.”

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