Jamestown oyster farm in wildlife refuge now on hold

Corps of Engineers changes permitting

SEQUIM — Permitting for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed oyster farm at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is on hold until at least a mid-November hearing after concerns were expressed by the public, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and wildlife refuge officials over the impacts of the 50-acre, inner-tidal project.

The Clallam County Department of Community Development withdrew its environmental determination of nonsignificance last Thursday, a day after the county hearing examiner granted the tribe’s request for the six-month permitting-process delay to accommodate a change in permitting by the Army Corp of Engineers.

Comments will be accepted on the project until at least mid-November, Greg Ballard, Clallam County senior planner, said Tuesday.

“We are basically going to do the whole process over again,” he said.

Going back to square one did not sit well with Tribal Chairman Ron Allen.

“We’re very frustrated,” Allen said Tuesday. “It’s just excessive federal bureaucracy.”

He said the tribe has spent about $1 million over more than a decade cleaning up septic-system degradation of Dungeness Bay to re-establish an oyster farm that had been in existence for decades before closing 13 years ago.

The oyster farm would be located in Dungeness Bay about 4,000 feet north of Cline Spit, on the largest natural spit in the United States. The spit is home to or visited by more than 250 species of birds.

Oysters were grown there commercially before the mid-1950s at a farm that was purchased by the tribe in 1990.

It operated until it was closed in 2005 due to recurring water quality problems stemming mostly from fecal coliform contamination.

“We think it’s an overreaction by the Army Corps,” Allen said of the delay.

“We have the [treaty] right to this oyster farm and we are going to re-establish it.

“It’s a matter, now, of stepping up and biting the bullet of excessive bureaucratic justification of an operation that has been in existence much longer than many of these people, whatever their age is.

“We are going to make this thing happen.”

Ballard’s do-over assessment was based on a May 9 ruling by county Hearing Examiner Andrew Reeves of Seattle-based Sound Law Center and county actions that stemmed from that ruling.

Reeves extended the hearing date on the tribe’s shoreline substantial development and conditional use permits to Nov. 15 after a hearing was held April 5 that had been continued to June 7.

On Thursday, the county Department of Community Development — the lead agency for the project — withdrew its Feb. 23 determination of nonsignificance for the oyster farm.

That withdrawal starts the public notice and state Environmental Police Act process over again, Ballard said.

But Ballard said Tuesday he did not expect the hearing to occur Nov. 15 given the amount of information required by then and production of a new staff report.

“I don’t like that date at all because it’s not all going to happen by that date,” Ballard said.

Reeves said he was acceding to the tribe’s May 1 request for time to prepare environmental assessment as required by the Army Corps of Engineers for an individual, site-specific Corps permit rather than the more general standards of a nationwide permit under which the county and tribe had operated.

The tribe must address potential impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat, impacts on visitors to the refuge, and issues raised by the public, “such as micro-plastics, compatibility with the Refuge, etc.,” Ballard said in a state Environmental Policy Act memo from the DCD to tribal officials, agencies with jurisdiction and interested parties.

He said an email from the Corps of Engineers indicated that the agency believed the impacts of the project “are considered more than minimal” and therefore cannot be processed under guidelines for a nationwide permit.

“They said this is a special area,” Ballard said.

The DCD processed the proposal under nationwide permit standards, not realizing the Corps of Engineers would require a more detailed assessment, Ballard said.

National Wildlife Refuge officials also raised objections to the project April 4, after DCD issued its staff report on the shoreline substantial development permit that contained the DNS, although the Refuge officials knew about the application Jan. 1.

In an April 4 email, Refuge officials “raised the concerns of the impacts of 150,000 on-bottom oyster bags would have on wildlife and their habitat,” Ballard said in the memo.

“They also indicated that the shore and the tidelands adjacent to this proposal supports the highest density of waterfowl and shorebird with[in] the Refuge.”

Reeves’ decision later this year will be forwarded, following a 14-day reconsideration period, to the state Department of Ecology, which can accept, reject or modify his ruling within 10 calendar days.

DOE’s decision can be appealed to the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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