Posted by: arbeam | May 15, 2013

Navy easement could end controversial pit-to-pier project

HOOD CANAL — The Navy has proposed a conservation easement on state lands in Hood Canal, a proposal that could kill the controversial pit-to-pier project. The conservation easement, which would apply to subtidal lands in Jefferson County, would effectively preclude new commercial or industrial construction that would extend from the shoreline, according to information provided by the Navy and Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The goal is to “safeguard Navy operations in Hood Canal from encroachment and preserve the local marine environment,” according to the joint statement.

Navy Hood Canal easement

The easement will be a strip of underwater area from the Hood Canal bridge south to a point just south of the Jefferson-Mason County line near Eldon. In most areas, the protected bedlands will be defined by their depths, from 18 feet below the average low tide to 70 feet down. More than 4,000 acres are covered by the easement.

Commercial projects that require the use of subtidal lands — such as a new industrial pier or marina — would be unable to acquire the necessary leases as a result of the agreement.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said the easement was requested by the Navy. “The Department of Natural Resources is partnering with the Navy to protect military operating areas and ensure the long-term stability of their presence at Naval Base Kitsap and their operations in adjacent waterways,” Goldmark said in a written statement. “This partnership will also provide new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems, safeguard public access, and support the jobs that depend on the Navy’s continued presence in the region.”

Capt. Peter M. Dawson, commanding officer of Naval Base Kitsap, called it a “win-win” for both the Navy and DNR. “It will enhance environmental conservation along a portion of the Hood Canal and prevent encroachment into Navy operating ranges that are so vital to our mission and our national security,” he said.

Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin said he could not speak about the pit-to-pier project, but he supports the Navy’s efforts to protect the environment. The Hood Canal shellfish business alone is worth $20 million a year, he noted. “Maintaining the pristine nature of the waters of Hood Canal is essential to Jefferson County,” Austin said. “Although what the Navy is doing may limit certain types of industry, it will help ensure the continuation of this very important industry.”

The proposed conservation easement is an outgrowth of a partnership agreement reached last year between the Navy and DNR. The agreement falls under the Navy’s Compatibility, Readiness, and Sustainment Program.

Language of the proposed easement, which is yet to be finalized, will prohibit industrial construction, including Navy projects. But it is designed to allow recreational uses and shellfish harvesting, including geoduck harvesting. It will not affect private lands.

In effect, the easement will be a long-term lease that limits the use of state bedlands. An upcoming appraisal will determine what economic values are lost to the state, and the Navy will pay a yet-to-be-determined amount for compensation, officials say.

Kitsap Sun article

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