Port of Bremerton to re-examine tribal agreement

The Port of Bremerton will be discussing on Tuesday an agreement reached nearly three years ago with the Suquamish Tribe after at least one Port Orchard resident expressed concerns about the nature of the pact.

Steve Slaton, the port’s director of marine facilities, said that interest in the contract was sparked after a letter to the editor written by Mark Morgan was published.

“Based on my conversation with Mr. Morgan, he had run into a barrier during his walk on the (Port Orchard Marina’s dock), and wanted to know about the fishing boats he saw,” Slaton said, explaining that while there were tribal members fishing nearby, the boats were not the reason for the barrier.

“One of the metal hinges on the public dock broke, and we didn’t want anyone to be harmed by walking on it,” he said.

However, Slaton said he also explained to Morgan the agreement the port reached with the Suquamish Tribe in December of 2005, which he described as mitigation for a planned expansion of the Bremerton marina.

“The reality of the laws are that the Army Corps of Engineers will not approve such (projects as the Bremerton marina expansion) without adequate consultation with the tribes,” Slaton said. “Since the marina expansion would impact their traditional fishing areas, we negotiated with the tribe to mitigate that impact.”

In addition to providing “200 lineal feet of moorage (inside the breakwater) without any fees or costs,” the port also agreed to contribute $10,000 to a net damage and repair fund administered by the tribe and pay $7,000 a year to its Fisheries Enhancement Fund.

Slaton said a similar agreement was reached before construction began on marina facilities across Puget Sound in Elliot Bay, and no doubt numerous others had occurred across the state and country.

He said the process could be compared to wetlands mitigation, which involves restoring or adding a commiserate amount of wetlands habitat in another location when a project will impact existing wetlands.

In response to the agreement being described by some as a “payoff,” Slaton said, “Everyone looks at things through different lenses, and your view is affected by your knowledge and experience with the situation.”

The commissioners briefly addressed the contract during their Aug. 12 meeting when questioned by the public, but at the time only described it as an agreement that had been reached years ago after negotiations with the tribe.

Port CEO Ken Attebery said, “Ratification of the agreement dated Dec. 8, 2005, between the Port of Bremerton and the Suquamish Tribe and all subsequent actions” will be on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

“We reached the agreement in late 2005 and were happy with that outcome and went about our business,” Attebery said. “There has been some question now as to whether that agreement is valid, and we believe it is.”

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 26 in the port’s offices at the Bremerton National Airport.

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