By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark led the 90-minute tour of the area aboard the Dawnbreaker, a state Department of Natural Resources vessel, with two print and four television journalists Wednesday.
“It's not right that he has spent all this time and money entertaining reporters and discussing a matter that is in litigation,” said Dan Baskins, spokesman for Thorndyke Resources, when asked to comment after the tour.
Thorndyke has proposed building a 998-foot pier on state-owned tidelands 5 miles south of the Hood Canal Bridge to load onto barges some 6.75 million tons of gravel annually after the rock is transported from a quarry at Shine on a 4-mile conveyor belt.
“He is trying to sell reporters on something that he had no authority to do in the first place and shouldn't be using state facilities to make his case,” Baskins said.
“This is a ridiculous abuse of power.”
The pact between DNR and the Navy, which was agreed upon in July and went into effect earlier this month, covers more than 4,800 acres of Hood Canal aquatic lands in a strip of state subtidal lands stretching from the Hood Canal Bridge south to just below the border between Jefferson and Mason counties.
The Navy will pay DNR $720,000 for a 55-year easement that restricts development in the area around Naval Base Kitsap, just north of Silverdale on the Kitsap Peninsula, and gives the Navy unrestricted access to waters for military exercises.
The easement will both protect the environment and increase national security, according to its sponsors.
“This will prevent any industrialization or building of structures over the water that would interfere in any way with government operations,” said Goldmark, accompanied by John Fabian, who co-founded the Hood Canal Coalition.
“It will help keep this area in conservational status for the cleanup and recovery of Puget Sound and Hood Canal,” Goldmark added.
Although the agreement doesn't mention the project nicknamed “pit-to-pier,” proponents expect the pact will block the proposed project.
“I don't think anyone wants to see Hood Canal industrialized,” Fabian said.
“The [pit-to-pier] project takes one step toward the industrialization of Hood Canal. It would threaten the area and be of interest to the Navy, which needs these waters for national defense.”
On Aug. 5, Hood Canal Sand and Gravel, Thorndyke's parent company, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Superior Court claiming the easement pact violates the company's rights to develop a gravel export facility in “arbitrary and capricious” ways.
The company asked the court to nullify the easement and order that the company has preserved rights to develop the property.
The suit also asks the court for an injunction preventing the state and Navy from enforcing the easement.
The suit names the Navy and DNR along with Michael Brady, real estate contracting officer for the Navy; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus; and Goldmark.
DNR and the Navy have until Monday to respond to the suit, Baskins said.
The 4,800-acre easement is the largest such agreement in state history, Goldmark said, and “will keep this area looking pretty much like it does today,” he said.
It does not affect home construction, small business, recreational docks or fishing operations but forbids any new commercial or industrial overwater construction in the easement area.
“It prevents encroachment, and any kind of encroachment hampers the Navy's ability to carry out training and safe operations,” Goldmark said of the easement.
Baskins said the Navy's training area is outside of the proposed operation and that Thorndyke could postpone or suspend shipments during these maneuvers.
“If they are using the area, we can stop for that time,” he said.
“We can wait. It's not as if sand and gravel has a shelf life.”
The project could create 2,000 jobs, Baskins said.
Goldmark said scuttling the project would not have a negative effect on job creation.
Instead, he said, it would preserve and create jobs in Kitsap County related to the Navy.
Baskins has said the agreement between the Navy and DNR is targeted at his company's project, while DNR's position is the agreement seeks to prevent all industrial development and not one specific venture.
The permit process for the pit-to-pier project was begun in 2003 by Fred Hill Materials. After Fred Hill's 2012 bankruptcy, Thorndyke, a Poulsbo company, took over the project.
Public comment has closed on a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed project.
The Jefferson County Department of Community Development expects to issue a final environmental impact statement sometime this year.
It will be used as the Jefferson County hearings examiner considers a county shoreline conditional-use permit for the proposed pier and loading dock and a zoning conditional-use permit for the proposed conveyor to transport material to the pier.
The hearings examiner's decision could take place in late November.
The company eventually must seek approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and area tribes, and acquire “about 19 permits and licenses from various [federal] agencies,” Baskins has said.
There is no estimated date for completion of the project.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.