Many people are familiar with the charming historic town of Port Gamble and its industrial shoreline. Although this town has existed much longer than many others in our region, there was an established village already occupying the point at the head of the bay and surrounding bluffs. Based off historic maps and documents from the first explorers and town founders, it is well accepted that the Klallam people lived at this site. According to S’Klallam oral traditions, the level sandy spit chosen for the mill site was the ancestral village known as “Teekalet” a Klallam/Chimakum word that described the shining sand in full sunlight. In 1853 William Talbot and Andrew Pope established the lumber mill and the town began to form. The S’Klallam people were persuaded to move to the marshy point on the opposite side of the bay entrance (Point Julia) with the promises of free lumber, firewood and Christmas presents.
From its foundation in 1853 to its closing in 1995, the Pope & Talbot mill used Port Gamble Bay and the historic Teekalet site for manufacturing forest products. These activities released large amounts of dangerous contaminates into the surrounding waters and ground. Substances from industrial machinery and wood wastes from logs, in addition to the operations inside the mill, all contributed to contamination. Since the mills closing, the Department of Ecology (DOE) has listed this property on the Toxic Cleanup site list and has been working with the owner of the mill and town site, Pope Resources. Thus far, there have been sediment and wood waste removals on land and in water, but there is still much work to be done. More recently DOE has completed remedial investigations on the impacts to the mill site and to Port Gamble Bay from 142 years of mill operations. Based off of the findings from these investigations, remedial actions will be determined for Pope Resources to fulfill, with assistance from DOE. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is working closely with these efforts to ensure that any actions will be beneficial to the environment while protecting our natural resources.
Whatever cleanup actions are decided upon, it is unlikely that all our concerns will be met. The point which the mill site occupies is drastically different from the point that originally existed. To support a large lumber mill, it was filled in with materials and enlarged with creosote structures thus creating an artificial shoreline. In addition to this, hundreds of creosote pilings were spread around the mill site and throughout the bay to support operations. It is important for us to see these toxic artificial features removed and habitat restored to support the important species in and around the bay. Also further understanding the impacts to subsistence food from industrial contaminates is important to us. Our tribal members still heavily depend on the fish and shellfish in Port Gamble Bay. In the following months many important decisions will be made in regards to the mill site cleanup. Information will be updated on this page to inform concerned community members.