Tribes question Navy plans for Ediz Hook submarine-escort dock

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Concerns over impacts on eelgrass and a fish-filled, anemone-active artificial reef were expressed when Navy staff and tribal representatives discussed long-range plans in late February for a submarine-escort vessel dock on Ediz Hook.

Bangor Naval Base spokesman Tom Danaher said Thursday the 200-foot, L-shaped pier, which would be built inside Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, remains in the first stages of National Environmental Policy Act review.

Scott Chitwood, natural resource director for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, expressed concerns at the meeting at the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation over impacts on eelgrass and why the Navy and Coast Guard can’t use the existing dock on the base.

The effect on eelgrass, a habitat for sea life, was “one of the major topics of discussion,” Chitwood said.

In an earlier interview, Danaher said the Navy had planned to build a dock in 2017 or 2018 near the base entrance and inside base grounds for security reasons.

Danaher said last week in an email that two possible locations on the base have been identified for a dock: the one near the entrance, the other closer to the end of the spit and the base runway.

The dock near the entrance would be constructed over an artificial reef, popular with local divers, that was created by rip-rap dumped near the shoreline.

It has been transformed into an aquatic habitat teeming with marine life, including multiple species of rockfish.

Port Angeles scuba-diving instructor Bill Roberds is urging the Navy to extend the Coast Guard’s existing dock 200 feet.

“They could probably talk the Navy into upgrading the old dock the Coast Guard has,” he said Friday.

Coast Guard escort vessels and Navy blocking vessels, which obstruct intruder vessels from reaching the submarines, would tie up to the dock, with crew staying overnight in an adjacent 8,300-square-foot shoreside facility.

The dock would serve as a rest-stop during the 80-mile, 10-hour trip from Bremerton and Bangor to Cape Flattery.

The Navy will not comment on the Feb. 26 meeting with tribal representatives because it falls under the heading of “government-to-government consultation,” Danaher said in an interview.

In attendance at the 90-minute meeting were Navy environmental planners and representatives from the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

The tribes must be consulted because Ediz Hook is part of their usual and accustomed fishing grounds.

Chitwood expressed concerns over disruption of eelgrass beds — which provide habitat for invertebrates and food, cover for myriad species and protection for juvenile fish and shellfish — and asked why the Navy and Coast Guard can’t use the existing dock on the base.

“Fish and shellfish which depend on eelgrass for all or part of their life cycle account for a multimillion dollar industry in Washington,” the state Department of Ecology quotes the Port Townsend Marine Science Center as saying on http://tinyurl.com/pdn-eelgrassecology.

The state of Oregon’s website at www.oregon.gov says: “In ecological and economic terms, they rival tropical rainforests and the world’s richest farmlands.”

The size of the dock also is “a major concern,” Chitwood added.

“From an ecological standpoint, it’s much less impactful if existing facilities are used,” he said, suggesting the existing Coast Guard dock might be extended.

“From a natural resources perspective, there’s not a plus side to having a large structure on the shoreline,” Chitwood added.

Doug Morrill, fisheries manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, said eelgrass and “the rock pile,” or artificial reef, were obvious concerns that were expressed at the Feb. 26 meeting.

“They are looking at other possibilities, whether to enhance other areas of the harbor, for instance, for dive opportunities,” he said.

“Rip-rap is one way to go, but the state of Washington is reluctant to put a stamp of approval on those types of projects, so it may not be a go.”

The existence of eelgrass is a standard issue of concern for any project along a waterfront, and the Navy staff was aware of it, Morrill said.

But use of the existing Coast Guard dock seemed unlikely for the new project, Morrill said.

No room

“The response was that it is an active Coast Guard dock that gets used quite a lot, so there’s no room for additional vessels to use that,” he said.

Extending the dock is not bereft of issues, either, Morrill added.

“Anytime you add onto something or do something different, it’s going to have its own set of impacts,” he said.

Building a dock closer to the tip of Ediz Hook at the other potential location also has disadvantages, Morrill said.

The site is subject to harsher weather and possibly stronger currents, he said.

“The biggest disadvantage I heard was that it’s pretty close to an active runway that the Coast Guard uses,” Morrill said.

“From that point of view, it’s not their preferred site.

“We pointed out some concerns, and they are going to come back with some possible solutions to lessen those impacts.”

Paul McCollum, natural resources director for the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, said the tribe wants more information on the availability of room at the existing Coast Guard dock.

“The rock pile is huge for rockfish,” he said.

“Any diver who’s been down there says it’s incredible,” he added.

“We have to look at damages and try to minimize the damage from development.

“Has the need really been vetted out?”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 08. 2014 5:27PM
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