Environmental Cleanup Case Study

Native American Lands Environmental
Mitigation Program

Makah Tribe
Neah Bay, Washington

The Makah Nation lies at the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Makah Tribe has lived in this region since time immemorial. For the Tribe, streams, creeks, plants, animals and ocean are essential cultural and subsistence resources. Since 1999, Ridolfi has worked with the Makah Tribe on mitigation and restoration activities to protect the health of their cultural and subsistence resources. Much of this work has been done through funding provided by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP).

The DoD NALEMP was established to address environmental impacts from DoD activities that affect the resources of American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. Impacts may be addressed through a variety of options, including cooperative agreements. Since 1998, the Makah Tribe has had agreements with the DoD that promote Tribal involvement and management of cleanup activities, with financial assistance from the DoD.

The U.S. military has had a presence on the Makah Indian Reservation since 1852, three years before the Reservation was created by the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the U.S. government and the Makah Tribe. In 1852, a government survey selected Tatoosh Island for construction of an 85-foot tall lighthouse. Tatoosh Island is of great cultural, historical, and spiritual importance to the Makah people. Before the arrival of the U.S. government, the Tribe seasonally occupied a large village on the island and on surrounding islands, which served as a base for hunting whale and seal and fishing for salmon, cod, and halibut and where the Tribe raised potatoes.

Military activities and operations on the Reservation increased with the onset of World War II. The military signed a land lease with the Makah Tribe that included a restoration clause: “The Government…shall return the premises in as good condition as that existing at the time of entering upon the same under this lease….”

During the past 20 years, Ridolfi has worked with the Makah Tribe to hold the DoD to their word and restore Makah’s natural resources to conditions preceding the DoD occupation. Ridolfi has offered technical guidance and oversight for various activities, including site reconnaissance, remediation activities, and data analysis at 23 NALEMP sites on the Makah Reservation.

Mitigation of these former military sites is necessary to protect and restore the Tribe’s subsistence and cultural uses of the impacted areas, as well as to support the Tribe’s efforts to create opportunities for economic development, including ecotourism. Ridolfi’s mission is to support mitigation of military impacts and restoration of former military sites in a manner that enhances the ecology of the area and respects the culture of the Makah people.