Diver has concerns about artificial reef beneath location of proposed Navy dock in Port Angeles
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A spur of land jutting from Ediz Hook, formerly a barge landing, is the site of a proposed dock to be used by the U.S. Navy for escort vessels.
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Bill Roberds
An anemone flutters in the water at the base of Ediz Hook, where the Navy is exploring construction of a pier for Coast Guard escort and Navy blocking vessels for Bangor Naval Base submarines.
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Bill Roberds

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — To scuba-diving instructor Bill Roberds, a 30,000-square-foot mini-mountain of underwater riprap at the base of Ediz Hook is more than a pile of rocks.

From Roberds' perspective, the Navy wants to build a dock directly above the richly populated artificial reef, potentially cutting off the area to divers and harming the habitat.

The Navy is exploring construction of a 200-foot, L-shaped pier for Coast Guard escort and Navy blocking vessels for Bangor Naval Base submarines in an as-yet unbudgeted $15 million project that would include an 8,300-square-foot shore-side building with temporary sleeping quarters, officials said last week.

Construction is slated for 2017 or 2018.

The Navy likes the location — it's a few hundred feet from the base entrance — because the site already is secure and the dock would be built out from an already existing though unused barge landing, Bangor Naval Base spokesman Tom Danaher said last week.

Navy and Coast Guard officials said last week they did not know of the reef's existence.

Danaher said there will be opportunities for public comment as officials continue their environmental review of the project.

The dock may be configured in a way that looks nothing like preliminary plans do now and that potentially could avoid the reef, he added.

Navy officials are slated to meet Thursday to discuss the project with Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam and Port Gamble S'Klallam tribal officials.

Roberds said the reef is one of the top 10 spots for diversity in the waterway system he explores between northwestern Washington and southwestern British Columbia called the Salish Sea.

A Port Angeles resident and the former owner of Capacity Provisioning Inc., Roberds is not opposed to the dock but wants to see it built somewhere else.

“I would greatly favor it but in a different location,” he said Tuesday.

The reef was accessible by land from the base until after 9/11, when security there was increased, Roberds said.

Roberds pointed to the several species of rockfish that cohabit as tenants in the rocks' nooks and crannies.

“This is a real jewel, this pile of rocks, and I would really hate to see it get ruined,” Roberds said.

In a video he took of the reef, it teemed with fish and jellyfish that swarmed above rocks lacquered with undulating anemone (http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Ediz-reef).

Scuba diver Andy Lamb of Thetis Island, B.C., has authored the books Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest and Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest, and has completed more than 3,200 dives.

He explored the reef with Roberds about two years ago.

“I was impressed, to be honest with you,” Lamb said Tuesday.

On his dive, he saw seven or eight species of rockfish.

Rockfish numbers have dwindled sharply overall due to overharvesting both commercially and recreationally.

“The artificial reef makes a totally balanced little ecosystem there,” Lamb added.

“It not only benefits the rockfish; it makes for a totally healthy situation.”

Roberds said he also fears that jet propulsion of the vessels above the reef might make the underwater colony inhospitable to marine life.

“It would be like living under Niagara Falls,” Roberds said.

The pier also might block out sunlight, which “makes the anemones look pretty” and is important for fish health.

Locating a dock there with vessels coming and going also would make it difficult to dive there, he added.

The reef is about 12 feet at the shoreline to 50 or 60 feet where piles would be driven for the dock, Roberds estimated.

Doug Morrill, fisheries manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, which will comment on the project, said it's too early to determine its impact on the reef.

Water turbulence from docking vessels, for example, has less impact as the water gets deeper, he said.

“Those are the things we need to look at as part of the environmental review,” he said.

Scott Chitwood, natural resources department director for the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, which also will comment on the project, said the impact on nearby eelgrass might be of concern.

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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: February 18. 2014 8:18PM
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