On May 20, 1922, the Port of Illahee is formed. The Port, like many in Kitsap County, will take over the operation and maintenance of a dock used by private steamships that provide transportation for passengers and freight between towns on Puget Sound and Hood Canal in the days before roads connected the towns. During the 1930s cars will replace the steamships and the Port of Illahee will maintain its dock for recreational use. In the latter part of the twentieth century the Port will be involved in environmental issues stemming from upland development that creates water quality and sedimentation issues at the Port's dock. The port district will spearhead efforts to assess the situation and develop solutions.
Farms and Summer Homes
In the 1910s, Illahee, a community located on the eastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula, across Port Orchard Bay from Bainbridge Island on Puget Sound, consisted of summer cottages and a handful of small farms. Bremerton, the closest established town, could only be reached reliably by water.
Real estate developers from Seattle, including Walter MacFarlane (1872-1928) and Ole Hanson (1874-1940), who was later a mayor of Seattle, sold homes and lots on the waterfront, often to residents of Seattle for use as summer homes. Hanson built a dock where the current dock is located to facilitate steamship travel, thus encouraging sales of his real estate.
Though Hanson reassured potential buyers in an ad that, "You are not isolated," Illahee was in fact quite remote (Ole Hanson & Son advertisement). Roads did not yet connect the community with other towns on the Kitsap Peninsula so residents traveled by water. Small steamships, known collectively as the Mosquito Fleet, carried people and goods between area towns and to Seattle. Steamers, including the Vashonia and the Chickaree, landed at the Illahee dock daily.
The Port and its Dock
On May 20, 1922, Illahee residents voted to form a local port district. In 1911, the Washington State Legislature had passed the Port District Act, which allowed communities to form public port districts with the authority to levy taxes and develop port facilities. In August 1922 Walter K. Macfarlane, Robert L. Macfarlane (b. 1899), and Walter Kilgore Macfarlane Jr. sold the dock to the port for $10, on the condition that the parcel only be used for a dock or wharf.
The port district encompassed a strip of land about one-half mile wide from just south of where Sylvan Way lies today to nearly the end of University Point, with one additional section of land at the top of the hill between Northeast McWilliams Road and Northeast Riddell Road. The Port operated and maintained the dock.
During the 1920s, people began to travel more often by car. The Manette Bridge, connecting East Bremerton, to which Illahee is adjacent, with downtown Bremerton opened in 1930. The Bremerton ferry carried cars and passengers to Seattle. At the end of that decade, in about 1938, Illahee Road opened, connecting Illahee with East Bremerton and with Manette.
The overland route to Bremerton reduced the need for steamship service to Illahee. Additionally, the Great Depression had reduced commuter traffic between Seattle and Illahee. Passenger steamers stopped docking at Illahee in the late 1930s.
Illahee's Degaussing Station
In spring 1941 the United States Navy located a small degaussing station at the Illahee dock. Degaussing stations demagnetize steel boats so that they do not attract magnetic mines. According to a local history:
"Each [ship] was wrapped by several thousand feet of electric cable as it floated quietly amidst the buoys of Illahee. These cables went down the side and many times around the hull making a 674-foot electromagnet near a big ship" ("Illahee Community Plan").
After the declaration of war in December 1941, the navy expanded the degaussing station, with additional personnel at the dock and several barges and Coast Guard vessels stationed there. The navy removed its equipment and personnel from the dock after the war, but the mid-channel degaussing station remained in use until the 1970s.
Since the war, the Port has maintained the dock for recreation use. Visitors and residents use it for tying up small boats, fishing, and scuba diving. A stairway next to the dock provides beach access.
Conserving the Habitat
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, development of the Illahee uplands has brought new challenges for the Port. Illahee Creek, which drains the steep hill that rises behind the dock, has received more stormwater runoff as forested land has been replaced with new homes and streets. The higher volume of runoff has increased erosion and, thus, sedimentation at the mouth of the creek, near the Port's dock. As the sediment builds up, it decreases the water depth at the dock, reducing its usefulness for boats and threatening shellfish beds.
In 1989 the Port began efforts to protect the creek from runoff. Early projects included adding a culvert under Illahee Road to improve salmon habitat. Sedimentation, which one Illahee resident has called a "disaster of mud," has filled that culvert (Brady).
A 2006 grant from the Department of Ecology's Centennial Clean Water Fund funded a study of how to manage the watershed's stormwater and address the depletion of the area's aquifer, which supplies drinking water. Increased well water use and less water percolating into the soil from land under existing housing developments have depleted the aquifer, which has reduced summertime streamflows. This situation threatens the viability of the stream's salmon population.
The Port commissioned the preparation of the Illahee Creek Surface Water Management Plan in 2008. The plans outlines the actions needed to protect and improve the stream, including designing future development to protect the stream's ecological function, retrofiting existing development's stormwater systems, and rehabilitate the creek itself.
Many of the items' costs far exceed the Port's annual budget and the Port is working with area agencies to find funding. In order to apply for grants, the Port has also prepared the Port of Illahee Habitat Conservation Plan.
In 2010, the Port considered purchasing a 15-acre parcel from a local developer to prevent extensive development planned for an environmentally sensitive slope. The Port feared that if the land was developed more sediment would be deposited on the shore. The community did not actively support the purchase, however, and the Port has reconsidered that option.
While developing strategies to deal with stormwater runoff is quite different from operating a community dock, the Port of Illahee has become involved in the environmental issues to protect the viability of the dock and the recreational opportunities it offers. The Port's dock, though it no longer serves an isolated summer resort, continues to play a vital role in the community. It is one of just a handful of public access points to the waterfront between Bremerton and Brownsville, giving Illahee residents and visitors a space to enjoy boating, fishing, and scuba diving in Puget Sound.