Updated at 11:52 a.m. on March 27: It turns out that the sky hasn't fallen on Forterra's effort to buy 6700 acres of Port Gamble forest from Pope Resources after all.
On Tuesday, I reported that no one had come up with the money to buy all that land, and that therefore, the future of the forest was uncertain. That was and still is true. But the chances of preserving the land look much better than anyone was willing to reveal, even two days ago.
In fact, Forterra has demonstrated enough likelihood of coming up with the funds to reach the next stage of negotiation. The organization now has another year to work out purchase and sale agreements with Pope, nailing down the details and raising the cash. The property has been divided into five blocks.
Forterra executive vice president Michelle Connor says that, conceivably, her group could raise enough money to buy some but not all of the five. Whether or not it could buy a portion of a block is a detail that remains to be worked out. In any case, Connor says, it now looks likely that much, if not all, of that land will be preserved, and that the eventual deal with Pope will cover all the shoreline.
Originally published March 26 at 5 a.m.:
S'Klallam tribal chairman Jeromy Sullivan, who dives commercially for geoducks, says that he dived just once along the western shore of Port Gamble Bay, where thousands of pilings formerly held logs for a now-defunct sawmill at the head of the bay. On the bottom, he found a wasteland of gray muck. His feet sank in. Nothing grew. He found a geoduck there, he says, but he couldn't imagine selling it to anyone for food. The mill operated there for 142 years. In places, the wood waste lies seven feet deep. Sullivan has never gone back.
In the long run, says Sullivan, who lives on his tribe's small reservation above the eastern shore, he has a personal vision of a bay filled with "bright and pristine" water. "I won't see it," he acknowledges, "but my kids and their kids and their kids will."
The state Department of Ecology and Pope Resources have just moved Port Gamble Bay a bit closer to that vision. On March 22, they announced an agreement that commits Pope — a spin-off of the mill, created to own and manage the company's extensive Washington holdings — to a $17 million clean-up of the bay, which will include removing both tons of sediment and thousands of pilings.
The agreement also commits $2 million in state money to buy 470 acres of Pope land and 83 acres of tidelands along the western shore, saving them from development. The dry land will be held by Kitsap County, the tidelands by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Port Gamble had already made the Ecology's list of 7 "priority bays" in Puget Sound, so prospects for a cleanup have looked good all along. But the future of the forests that stand on the bluff above and ultimately drain into the bay, is at best up in the air.
Eighteen months ago, saving the forests from development or unsustainable logging looked like a solid bet. The forests were in the news, as Pope Resources gave Forterra an 18-month option to buy 6,700 acres of forest, including 1.8 miles of shoreline, along and above Port Gamble Bay.
The option agreement got good press. Virtually everyone seemed to like the idea of all that land and the bay below it protected for all time. Arguably, no one could find another big land acquisition that meant so much to Puget Sound. But there was a catch: Money. The lack of money. The lack of any obvious way to come up with the money. There is still no willing buyer for most of it. Forterra's option has just run out.
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