Hood Canal must be saved from disaster

While much has been written about current threats to Hood Canal, Including pollution and low oxygen levels, another threat is still on the horizon, yet very real. This pristine body of water and its surroundings are in danger of massive industrialization and commercial shipping that would forever alter the tenuous ecological balance of the canal.

Fred Hill Materials, a Poulsbo sand and gravel company, has applied for permits to build a four-mile long conveyor belt leading to a 1,000-foot pier and 900-foot moorage just north of Thorndyke Bay. Here, barges carrying 5,000 to 20,000 tons would be filled with gravel. The largest of these barges are bigger than any operating in Puget Sound Today.

And that’s just the beginning. In a few years, 60,000-ton ore ships — the size of aircraft carriers — would begin to enter the canal for gravel loading at the pier. It is the size of these enormous vessels that determines the design height of the pier: 91 feet tall.

The proposed project includes a nine-story industrial pier, three football fields long, located a mile from one of the most productive estuaries in Puget Sound.

When environmental factors are considered, the project is inconceivable. In the upland area, wetlands, lakes and streams form the natural habitat and spawning grounds for hundreds of species. The shoreline is designated as a “Shoreline of Statewide Significance” and as “Conservancy” in the Jefferson County Shoreline Master Program. The proposed pier site is rich with sand dollar beds, geoducks, clams, and other shellfish. There are salmon runs and eelgrass beds along the beach. It is also home to eagles, herons, osprey, hawks and other wildlife.

Ships and barges will bring with them all of the pollution and contamination common to industrial harbors including oil, diesel, and gravel spills, constant noise, dust, carcinogenic diesel exhaust, and invasive species brought in on international and interstate ships and barges.

These huge vessels would transit the Hood Canal Bridge causing massive traffic jams and a significant chance of a vessel-bridge collision that could destroy the sole lifeline to the Olympic Peninsula. While Fred Hill Materials has said that all barges would pass beneath the elevated portion of the bridge, logic, history and prudence say otherwise.

The organization leading the opposition to this “Pit-to-pier” project is the Hood Canal Coalition (HCC), which has grown to over 2,000 individuals in the past 15 months.

Also in the opposition are 35 environmental, community, political, business, and sporting organizations—including People For Puget Sound. People For Puget Sound joined because of the shoreline impacts involved in the proposal.

This project will likely be in the permitting stage for years. The ultimate decision on the Pit-to-Pier project will not be made at the county level, but rather at the state and federal levels. As a result, the Hood Canal Coalition, and its partner organizations, are expanding the scope of our membership recruiting efforts.

We need to show decision makers in Olympia and Washington DC that the citizens of our state do not support, and will not welcome, this massive destruction of one of our most precious natural wonders.

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. John Fabian is from the Hood Canal Coalition.

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