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Port ratifies its pact with tribe

Despite strong criticism from audience members who called the contract a “bribe” and “back-room deal,” the Port of Bremerton voted Tuesday to ratify an agreement made with the Suquamish Tribe in 2005 that allowed the Bremerton Marina expansion to go forward.

“It is frightening to me that the tribe can stop a project just by writing a letter to the Corps,” said Vivian Henderson, referring to the port’s explanation that such an agreement had to be reached before the Army Corps of Engineers would approve the marina project. “This was a back-room deal, and you need to shake it out and give it some air.”

“I am appalled at the lack of public comment,” said Kathleen Seamans, asking that the port delay ratifying the agreement. “You act like we are an invasion of your jobs, when we are the reason you have jobs.”

Port Commissioner Bill Mahan disagreed that the agreement was made in secret, describing the process as nearly two years of negotiations that were reviewed at “numerous public meetings. It was done openly, and people had an opportunity to comment, but at the time there were maybe two people in the room (other than the board).”

However, Kathryn Simpson said she “took exception” to the statement that the process had been open since she “scoured the board’s minutes and found no mention of the actual details of the agreement until January 2006, when it had already been signed.”

In response, Mahan countered that he took exception to her comments.

“This was not hidden from the public,” he said. “I negotiated hard and got what I think is a great deal for us. The worst thing we can do is re-open this. I think that everyone is mad that we have to negotiate with the indians at all. That’s what I think is at the bottom of this.”

Port Orchard resident Richard Butler, however, said his frustration with the agreement did not stem from having to negotiate with the tribe.

“I want to know why the Port Orchard Marina had to give up space to build the Bremerton Marina,” Butler said, referring to the 200 feet of free moorage the port ceded to tribal fishing boats as part of the agreement. “That’s what sticks in my craw. Why didn’t they get space in the Bremerton Marina?”

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola agreed.

“We do not want those boats in Port Orchard,” Coppola said. “You made this agreement for the benefit of Bremerton — those boats should be in Bremerton.”

To answer why moorage space was given in Port Orchard and not Bremerton, Mahan said the tribe had been using the Port Orchard Marina “from the get-go and wanted to formalize the agreement.”

Along with marina moorage, the port agreed to give the tribe a “one-time contribution of $10,000” to a net damage and repair fund, and $7,000 annually to a fisheries enhancement fund.

Port Board President Cheryl Kincer said she helped negotiate the agreement initially, and she also believed it had been done in “good faith.”

She said, “There have been a lot of negative comments directed at (Commissioner Mahan), but he got us an agreement that allowed us to build the Bremerton Marina.”

“If you read the agreement made with the tribe to build the marina in Elliot Bay, you’re going to say, ‘You did a good job,’” Mahan said. “It would be foolish not to ratify this agreement.”

Kincer and Mahan then voted to do just that, with Commissioner Larry Stokes abstaining, saying he “was not part of the commission when the agreement was signed.”

Stokes also told the audience that he hoped everyone would “give us a chance to move forward and do what you want us to do. I hope you keep the commission’s nose to the grindstone, but I’d also like to see us live happily ever after.”

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