Suquamish Tribe reaches oil spill settlement

SUQUAMISH (February 26, 2007) – On February 9, 2007, the Suquamish Tribe closed one chapter of the book on the 5,000-gallon oil spill that blackened one of the last pristine saltwater marsh and estuaries in Puget Sound.

In a settlement agreement signed Feb. 9 with Foss Maritime, the tribe received $1.1 million for spiritual and cultural damages to the tribe’s historic salt water marsh and beach, known as Doe-Kag-Wats.

Foss is the company who took responsibility for the December 2003 oil spill that occurred in Shoreline and spread across the Sound to the tribe’s reservation on the Kitsap Peninsula. The money will be used to help fund a traditional community house on the reservation for use by the Suquamish people and the local community.

The tribe negotiated with Foss for the past three years to obtain compensation for damages to the culturally sensitive site. Tribal members have used Doe-Kag-Wats as a place of healing and worship, as well as for subsistence harvests, since time immemorial.

“We’re happy to put the settlement discussions behind us and we look forward to healing the estuary and honoring our ancestors,” said Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribal Chairman.

On Dec. 30, 2003, about 5,000 gallons of oil poured into Puget Sound in Shoreline. The heavy bunker oil overflowed from a Foss barge while being loaded from the former Chevron/Texaco terminal. Rules in place at the time permitted such transfers without deploying protective containment boom around the vessel beforehand. Winds and tides quickly pushed the uncontained oil across Puget Sound where it washed upon the sacred beach and estuary owned by the tribe, near Indianola. The spill polluted important nearshore habitat used by herring and salmon, and damaged shellfish beds.

Foss previously compensated the tribe $126,000 for its initial response and damage assessment costs. Foss also agreed to pay an additional $265,000 to a federal fund to restore and mitigate damages to the natural resources at the estuary site. Projects include removing washed-up creosote-soaked logs, reseeding shellfish beds and enhancing beach and estuarine habitat.

To begin the spiritual healing process, the tribe is planning a ceremony at the beach this spring.

“We can now start the proper healing process of the beach that many generations of Suquamish people have used for spiritual and cultural activities,” Chairman Forsman said.

For more information, contact: Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribal Chairman, at (360) 340-0986 or [email protected]; Tom Ostrom, Suquamish environmental biologist, at (360) 394-8446 or [email protected]; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].