Cormier addresses lake closure, shrinking Quinault population at town hall

Lake Quinault closures and the shrinking Quinault community were once again topics of discussion at a town hall meeting hosted by Grays Harbor County Commissioner Wes Cormier on Tuesday.

The meeting was held at the Lake Quinault Lodge, and about 10 citizens attended to air their grievances.

“We’ve been attacked on federal, state and tribal issues from all sides,” said Keith Olson, a Quinault resident, of the summer’s Lake Quinault closures and of Olympic National Park.

“The park damages our community,” he added. “They’ve damaged our valley, they’ve stolen homes, and then there’s the thing about the tribe shutting down the lake.”

Tom Landreth, a Lake Quinault property owner, expressed his concern for property values on the lake with the Quinault Indian Nation still prohibiting non-tribal fishing and boating. He said his property isn’t worth anything now because no one wants to buy a house on a lake they can’t use.

“Everyone up here has been impacted and it’s going to take a long time to recover,” Landreth said.

Cormier, who previously worked as a real estate appraiser for the county, said Landreth’s analysis is probably right — lakeside property values have likely decreased. But he said there’s not much the county can do to help the situation, as the tribe controls lake usage.

“We don’t have the authority to step on the toes of another government,” Cormier said. “They are a sovereign nation.”

The commissioner said he and his counterpart, Commissioner Frank Gordon, have been doing what they can to remedy the situation. Gordon met with tribal officials over the summer regarding the lake closures.

Tribal officials closed the lake to non-tribal fishing in April, and non-tribal swimming and boating in June. They lifted the ban on swimming in early July. Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp cited pollution as a reason for the closures.

Dave Christiansen, also a Quinault resident, said the community’s problems started long before the Quinault Indian Nation closed the lake — the population has dwindled over the last decade because of the decline in logging. He served on the school board for several years, and said the school has lost about a third of its population.

“The school is really suffering,” Christiansen said. “It’s one of our largest employers and we have to lay people off.”

Christiansen blamed the spotted owl for the community’s problems, and said the state and federal governments should be giving the community more money. He also suggested that the county provide incentives to bring manufacturing to the rural area.

Cormier said he’s not sure what to do to help the Quinault community, but he’s willing to look at job growth options.

“I’m lucky enough that I can stay in the same place where my parents lived,” Cormier said. “That’s not something a lot of people can do in this county.”

This was the first in a series of town hall meetings hosted by Cormier. The next meeting will be held at the Sharon Grange in Porter on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m. The final meeting will be held at the Westport council chambers on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Amelia Dickson: 360-537-3936 or Twitter: @DW_Amelia