The Makah Indian Tribe used a combination of Tribal funds, an EDA grant and $7.8M in NMTC financing from the National Development Council to reconstruct a badly damaged commercial fishing dock on tribal land in the Port of Neah Bay at the northwest tip of Washington State. Originally constructed in 1952 for use by commercial fishing vessels to offload their catch, the concrete and creosote dock had been in a state of significant disrepair and a recent failure had essentially shut it down for all activity. The dock is a major source of income for the Makah tribe, a community numbering fewer than 3,000 located on the remote coast of northwest Washington. It supports a diverse array of tribal and non-tribal businesses and a regional fish processing industry that includes some 90 different Small Businesses, mostly Minority Business Enterprises.
The $13.7M project involved demolishing and removing approximately 504 creosote-treated timber piles along with the 120 foot long dock and warehouse buildings and replacing them with new concrete and steel pilings, new causeway, several loading cranes and a new dock building with remote controlled ice loading capability. Construction involved a significant amount of in-water work on this remote coastal site which endures extreme winter weather from the Pacific. Permitting required the coordination of no fewer than six different federal, state and local agencies to ensure the protection of the fragile marine ecosystem during the process.
The Makah community is located in a high poverty census tract (27.3%) with even greater incidence of poverty among tribal members. Fishing is the major industry of the Makah Tribe and the Neah Bay location is critical given the remote nature of the reservation. Each vessel uses the dock to load their boats with ice before going out many miles into the Pacific to fish for halibut, salmon, tuna and other species. The boats return to offload their catch into waiting trucks for transport to distribution or processing facilities and for sale in local fish market throughout the region. From the time of the last major dock and warehouse repairs in 1976, high surf and wind exposure and rough weather conditions had eroded the structure to a dangerous level. The dock was further damaged in 2013 when a forklift fell through a portion of collapsed decking, resulting in the complete closure of the dock to motorized vehicles. Crews were forced to load and unload their equipment and catch via small motorized carts or wheelbarrows.
The benefits to the tribal economy, the 90 small business enterprises and the more than 400 jobs they employ cannot be overstated. Presently, some 8 million pounds of fish valued at $6.5-7 million cross the Neah Bay dock annually. It will also benefit the small Makah Commercial Fishing Dock businesses that use it with greatly increased efficiency, access to secure cold storage and improved wholesale facilities for their catch. The dock replacement project supplies new capacity and cost effectiveness to help the local area and region expand its fishing industry, create new jobs and increase the economic competitiveness of Pacific Northwest fishery.