Residents angry over plans for scuba business

TACOMA - Fox Island and Gig Harbor residents have ramped up their fight to keep the Nisqually Indian Tribe from taking over a former Navy facility on Carr Inlet, hoping to stall a federal land transfer past Tuesday's deadline.

The tribe wants to turn the former Navy acoustics lab and an adjacent pier into a headquarters for its commercial scuba diving business (Nisqually Aquatic Technologies) and a base for tribal fisheries law enforcement.

Concerned residents launched a petition drive against the tribe’s plans last Tuesday and by Friday had collected 365 signatures.

They fired off angry e-mails to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and a warning letter to the tribe, vowing that “Residents will oppose your operations at the local, state, and federal level to whatever means necessary.”

“This thing is going to explode if the tribe gets it,” said John Blaser, a Fox Island resident who lives next door to the property and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the transfer.

“It’s a commercial water business,” he said. “That’s not allowed on Fox Island. It’s prohibited.”

A tribal spokesman said Friday that opponents are mischaracterizing the tribe’s plans.

“While there seems to be a groundswell of community anger against the tribe as a potential new property owner on the island, it is becoming clear that this opposition is based, in large part, on misrepresentations about the tribe, its activities, and its proposed uses for the property,” tribal spokesman Michael Graubard said in an e-mail.

Nisqually Aquatic Technologies is not an “industrial” operation, nor would it conduct industrial activities next to the Fox Island property, Graubard said.

Most of the diving company’s activities would be conducted elsewhere, according to Graubard.

Contrary to what is suggested in the petition, the dive team does not conduct or participate in commercial shellfish harvesting, Graubard said.

In addition to Nisqually Aquatic Technologies using the property as its base of operations, and training site for divers, the tribe also plans to locate one Fish and Wildlife enforcement unit and a small Department of Natural Resources lab at the property, Graubard said.

“As is the case with the dive team, these additional uses are also dedicated to preserving and enhancing the region’s shared waterways,” he said.

Fox Island residents have tried for years to get rid of the waterfront facility and pier, complaining that the structure and barges tied up out front have disrupted natural processes along the beach and destroyed the marine environment.

The Navy agreed to move the facility last year. But instead of returning the property to its natural condition, as originally planned, the Navy decided instead to offer the land, buildings and pier up to other federal agencies as surplus property.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is working to obtain the property for the Nisqually Tribe through the General Services Administration.

The BIA has until Tuesday to complete all requirements related to the transfer.

If the transfer is approved, opponents say they will do all they can to stop the tribe from carrying out its proposed uses.

“Understand that Fox Island residents will fight to the end to prevent any water industry from coming to our community,” opponents wrote in a letter to the tribe.