Opinion

Port, tribe strike another backroom deal

Say, who won the war between the “white eyes” and the Indians anyway?

The city of Bremerton wants to build a boardwalk over the water from downtown to the south end of Evergreen Rotary Park. The Suquamish Indian tribe objects, saying it would do environmental damage to what it claims as its usual and accustomed fishing area.

A copy of that objection went to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, without whose approval nothing happens on anything to which an Indian tribe objects.

The city of Poulsbo wants to transfer water rights from one of its wells to another one. That’s held up because the Suquamish tribe is concerned such a move will affect water flows in nearby streams in which there are salmon runs.

The Port of Bremerton negotiated for 18 months with the Suquamish over its plans to build the new Bremerton Marina, finally reaching an agreement in 2005 it was learned only recently was never ratified by a vote of the port commissioners.

Payoffs to the tribe agreed to by the port in secret meetings — the usual way government entities in the state deal with the tribes — surfaced, angering port constituents who’d like to see such business conducted in the open.

The port responded by calling a meeting on Aug. 26 at which the 2005 agreement was approved by Commissioners Bill Mahan and Cheryl Kincer, agreement negotiators.

New Commissioner Larry Stokes abstained.

Those payoffs consisted of a $10,000 contribution to the tribe’s net damage and repair fund, $7,000 a year adjusted for inflation in perpetuity to the tribe’s fisheries-enhancement program and exclusive use by the tribe’s fishing boats of 200 feet of space in the Port Orchard Marina.

Port Orchard is closer to where the tribe fishes, it says.

Mark Morgan of Port Orchard learned of the marina giveaway when he noticed the 200 feet of space roped off from public access. He asked for and got a copy of the agreement between the port and tribal chair Leonard Forsman and contacted the media.

Kathryn Simpson of Port Orchard then went through the port’s meeting minutes and could find no vote ever taken on the agreement.

She, too, criticized the secrecy of it all.

When I asked port attorney Gordon Walgren who dropped the ball, he said there were at least 10 places in the minutes when the subject came up in public meetings, but they had “simply neglected” bringing the final agreement before the members.

Whose neglect? Who prepares the agenda?

That, said port CEO Ken Attebery, was the staff’s job.

You’re not going to blame this on the staff, are you? I asked.

He conceded he was part of the staff and he signs the agenda for meetings.

As for the payoff to the tribe, Walgren said, “The tribes have their substantial interest in the salmon fishery. As provided by federal law primarily, they are able to have those interests pretty well enforced by the Corps of Engineers, who say, ‘You work it out with the tribe first, before we give you a permit.’

“That’s what we do,” he said. “Actually, we got a pretty good deal compared with some of the agreements entered into by the Port of Seattle.“

Further, he said, “I’m not conceding that the Port Commission had to legally commit. I am not acknowledging that they had to come in and do that. It was not something we absolutely had to do.”

I suspect this latest proof of the port’s penchant for secrecy will cost Mahan his post when he runs for re-election next year.

If he runs, that is. I hear he may retire.

I also hear Gene Hart is gearing up to run for his seat. That’s a ways off, of course.

Old pol Frances Haddon Morgan used to say about the voters, “They forget.”

Only when they want to.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at

PO Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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