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Caring for our natural neighborhood...

162 Years of Nisqually Reach History

1832 was the year Hudson Bay Company established the first European settlement on Puget Sound, at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek. They called it, "Nisqually House".

Fort Nisqually followed, and a mission, and a U.S. naval observatory. There was a birth and 4th of July celebration. A historic site if ever there was one on Puget Sound. Now there's a plan to establish a National Historic District along the banks of Sequalitchew Creek.

In 1970 there was a fight in Thurston County over a plan to build a new port facility at the "Atlas Powder Site", along Nisqually Reach. That effort was stopped thru the local political action, thanks to a spirited and loyal opposition.

Some of the people who opposed a new port on Nisqually Reach helped craft and pass the Shoreline Management Act (SMA), which, in 1971, named the Nisqually shoreline, from DeWolf Bight to Tatsolo Point, 1 of 5 "Shorelines of Statewide Significance".

In 1973 Weyerhaeuser acquired 3,000+ acres in present day DuPont, and immediately announced plans for to build a full spectrum forest products facility (sawmill, pulp-mill, dock and more), on the DuPont Shoreline, at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek.

Some veterans of the SMA effort formed the Nisqually Delta Association (NDA). Weyerhaeuser toned down their publicly stated goals: "only" a new 1/2-mile dock, and a log yard. Location: the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek, the site of the old DuPont dock.

Nisqually Delta Association led a legal challenge to that proposal, a contest that spent twelve years in state courts, and went to the State Supreme Court -- twice! Audubon chapters, the Washington Environmental Council and others supported this effort.

The State Supreme Court ruled in favor of splitting the baby. The dock was allowed, but only at the level of effort that Weyerhaeuser was willing to reveal in court. In effect, NDA won, as that dock was never built. The matter, however, was clearly not settled.

After the needed permits for building the dock lapsed, Weyerhaeuser entertained other proposals for shipping facilities, none of which got far. In 1992, a gravel export facility was proposed, and NDA and partners again challenged the legality of the proposal.

Remanded to mediation by the SMA's Shorelines Hearings Board, the proponents and opponents sat down and began to talk. Opposing sides agreed to work to settle the issue "once and for all". After a full year of negotiation, a Settlement Agreement was reached.

In December 1994, a new agreement was signed that allowed a dock, but at Tatsolo Point, (off the SMA's, "Shoreline of Statewide Significance"). The DuPont marine shoreline and Sequalitchew Creek were, by agreement, off limits to future development.

Nisqually Delta Association's History of Environmental Activism

Back in 1973, Weyerhaeuser obtained property in what today is the City of DuPont, and announced plans to develop a new forest products industrial complex, which would include a new deepwater shipping facility that would be used for both import and export operations. Public outcry was immediate and loud, and energized the Nisqually Delta Association to launch a grassroots campaign to "Save Nisqually".

Nisqually Delta Association contended that the proposal, particularly in the way it would have impacted the shoreline resources, was an affront to the principles of the Shoreline Management Act which had only a couple of years earlier designated the shorelines of Nisqually Reach as one of the five, "Shorelines of Statewide Significance." Specifically, the marine shorelines of Nisqually Reach, from DeWolfe Bight in Thurston County to Tatsolo Point in Pierce County was to be afforded special consideration for the protections of the act. The Weyerhaeuser proposal represented a dramatically expanded port activity, near the center of that shoreline area.

Legal motions were filed, and the dispute began to wend its way through the review process. Initially the issue went before the Shorelines Hearings Board, the quasi-judicial body empowered by the Shorelines Management Act to consider such conflicts. Subsequently the issue moved into the State courts, and ended up, a dozen years later, before the State Supreme Court, not once, but twice.

Weyerhaeuser contended that their proposed dock would be at the site of a much older and smaller dock that had been used by the DuPont Corporation to ship explosives, and therefore the development right for the shoreline should be "grandfathered in". And by the time that the proposal had moved into the legal review process, Weyerhaeuser had reconsidered the scope of their ambitions, contended, publically at least, that their only design was for a very large dock to be used exclusively for the export of raw logs. Gone were the plans for full blown industrial center, and high efficiency, state-of-the-art import and export dock for all manner of products.

The Nisqually Delta Association continued to draw attention to vastly expanded size of the dock, and the potential for large new industrial use in a place that was essentially adjacent to what by then was (an is) a National Wildlife Refuge. Our case argued for the environmental values of all of the shorelines of DuPont, not only the marine "shoreline of statewide significance", but also for the environmental values of Sequalitchew Creek and its canyon, the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek being the precise location of Weyerhaeuser's proposed dock.

Eventually the Supreme Court came to a decision that both sides claimed as a victory. Weyerhaeuser was granted the right to permit a dock at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek, and could use that dock to export logs. We at Nisqually Delta Association were encouraged that the Court had supported our contention that the proposal they revealed in the official proceedings was only the "nose of the camel in the tent". NDA had argued that the true environmental impacts were vastly underestimated, because Weyerhaeuser was only willing to discuss the impacts of a limited log export facility, and not those of the multipurpose import and export facility they had originally proclaimed.

While Weyerhaeuser sought and was granted a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to build the "log export facility" described in their Environmental Impact Statement, they never moved forward on the dock. Presumably this was because the use restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court made the economics of such a proposal untenable. As a result, time ran out on the original dock permits.

Then in the early 1990's, Weyerhaeuser came forward with new proposal. This time the plan was to allow LoneStar Gravel to develop a mine on the same property they had originally intended for a full spectrum forest products industrial site, and use a new dock to load gravel onto barges. Again the site of the dock was the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek, and again NDA filed objections based on the intent of the Shoreline Management Act concerning that "shoreline of statewide significance", and the proposals potential degradation of the ecological values of Sequalitchew Creek and Canyon.

This time the Shorelines Hearings Board directed the two sides to attempt to mediate the issue. Such mediation did take place, and throughout 1994 negotiations took place that ended with the Settlement Agreement we are discussing again today. The most prominent feature of the Settlement Agreement is that the objections to building a shipping facility were withdrawn, so long as the activity was limited to only gravel loading, and the dock itself we located at Tatsolo Point, a mile and a half further from the Nisqually Delta, and essentially off of the Nisqually Reach shoreline of statewide significance.

The Nisqually Delta Association, and the affiliated environmental activist organizations that supported the agreement, believed at the time that the Settlement Agreement effectively resolved what was then a two-decade dispute. Not only was the dock itself was off of the "shoreline of statewide significance", but Sequalitchew Creek and its canyon were protected, and headed towards inclusion in a park system. And beyond that, an environmental mitigation trust was established, funded by the project proponents, which would be used in the years to come to purchase lands that could enhance and expand the ecological resources of the Nisqually Delta.


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