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Tribe says Brinnon resort threatens treaty rights

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Port Gamble S'Klallam tribal members say their concerns about how a long-planned resort near Brinnon would infringe on tribal treaty rights have not been taken seriously over the past 15 years.

“That’s surprising to me, that it’s taken so long for our voice to be heard at all,” Jeromy Sullivan, chair of the tribe's six-member council, said April 18 during a rare, face-to-face meeting with Jefferson County's three commissioners. “That was one of the things we really wanted to say to the county, say to Mr. Mann: We want to work with you guys.”

Sullivan called for the meeting March 23 after Roma Call, the tribe's environmental program manager, submitted to the county planning commission a letter outlining some 13 proposed mitigation actions to protect cultural resources, shellfish, water quality, wildlife and habitat in and around the proposed 231-acre resort at Black Point, 2 miles south of Brinnon along Hood Canal.

“We want to not only preserve what’s there now, we want to grow it,” Sullivan said, recalling his childhood digging clams and picking oysters in the Duckabush and Dosewallips tidelands. “We feel if there’s more clams and oysters for the S’Klallams, that means there’s more clams and oysters for everybody.”

Citing the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, Sullivan said the proposed resort threatens fish, shellfish and wildlife that tribal members not only have a right to harvest, but depend on both as a way of life and a livelihood.

“When we’re talking about a potential golf course being close to any wetlands or streams, it’s concerning, especially when we’re talking about the Hood Canal,” Sullivan said.

“I’m getting tribal members coming to my office saying that if they do this project it will eliminate certain species of plants that they have harvested their whole lives. That’s concerning. Lessening the impact, not having more of an impact, is a goal that we should be striving for as residents of the area. I know we’re doing our best to do that out on our reservation. If the first thing a new economic development person says when they come to the tribe is, ‘It would be great if we had a hotel right here on the water,’ we tell them, ‘If you ever say that again….’ We just do not want to take advantage of something like that when we know it could impact who we are as people.”

BACKGROUND

The meeting came after the county's release of a final environmental review in December 2015, which tribal members said surprised them as they had yet to provide comments on a draft environmental review released in November 2014.

In a written response to the tribe's latest concerns, county planner David Wayne Johnson noted that staff met with tribal members on site in February 2015, at which time Call suggested she would submit a request for additional monitoring of water quality. Johnson wrote that the final review was released 10 months later, “sufficient time for [the tribe] to submit their request.”

Since agreeing in January to give the tribe 60 days to submit its comments, the planning commission has mulled over proposed development regulations it must eventually recommend to the county commissioners for approval.

The planning commission is set to take up the issue again at 6:30 p.m. May 4 at the Tri-Area Community Center.

SEAT AT THE TABLE

The April 18 meeting was followed by a brief meeting between tribal members and project applicant staff, including Garth Mann, president of the Statesman Group of Alberta, Canada.

“It’s important that we get an opportunity to show you exactly the truth of what’s happening so it’s not hearsay,” said Mann, who first applied to build a master planned resort on Black Point in 2006. “We’re very ready, willing and able to do that.”

Sullivan said tribal staff would soon meet with the applicant's staff and county staff to discuss the tribe's concerns in greater detail.

“There is an opportunity for improving the dialogue and the communication bilaterally between the tribe and the county, as well as between the tribe and the applicant,” said Morley, county administrator. “The alternative is for people to not work for solutions and end up in court against each other, and I think folks are trying to avoid that.”

The tribe fears the proposed resort could resemble Port Ludlow, Sullivan told the Leader.

“For us, we look at Port Ludlow as an example of what we don’t want to see,” he said. “It’s impacted our tribal treaty rights; it’s impacted a significant camp that the S'Klallams lived in. We’ll never have any of that identity or treaty rights back as long as there’s people living there and I don’t anticipate anybody ever moving.”

Mann said the application process has not been any easier on his end.

“We’re the ones paying the bills and we’ve been at it 10 years,” he said. “We work all around the world and we’ve never had anything quite like this one in terms of the approval process. It’s very frustrating on the other side, and very expensive.”

Since 2008, the project has been revised and pared several times. It now includes a 9-hole golf course with an associated 3-hole practice course requiring 1 million cubic yards of earthwork for grading, 890 residential units, 56,608 square feet of commercial space with resort-related amenities and 103 acres of natural area preserved.

“The developer has come a long way,” Morley said. “The development proposal that’s before the county now is significantly different than what was originally proposed and approved in concept in 2008. It’s not that comments were made and ignored; comments were made and significant changes were made.”

Sullivan said he's not sure the tribe will be able to find common ground with the applicant, though he is glad the tribe now has a seat at the table and a louder voice in ongoing discussions.

“Fifteen years ago, all we had to do was look at it to say, ‘We oppose that,’” Sullivan said, pointing out that today there exists a greater understanding of how to protect the environment when planning large-scale development. “We’re not here to prohibit or stop anything. We want to find the best possible solutions to have this kind of growth and keep the environment pristine. We need to work together.”

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