Port Angeles faces bill of up to $65 million for state environmental mandates

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

City on the hook

THE ESTIMATED COSTS to the city of Port Angeles of five major environmental projects are:

■   Combined Sewer Overflow Project: $42 million.

■   Municipal Stormwater Permit: $2.2 million.

■   Port Angeles Harbor Cleanup: $1 million.

■   Landfill Bluff Stabilization: $12 million to $20 million.

■   Shoreline Master Program update: About $500,000.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The city could have to shell out between $57.5 million and $65.2 million over the next 20 years to deal with five environmental projects involving the state Department of Ecology.

Te city wants the state agency to know about it.

The projects, all but one of which Ecology is requiring of the city, range in estimated cost to the city from about $500,000 to
$42 million.

Officials expect the city’s total liability for these projects over the next 20 years to be between $57.5 million and $65.2 million.

Port Angeles residents already have begun to pay for three projects through increases in stormwater and wastewater rates.

In a letter sent Oct. 30 to Ecology, City Manager Dan McKeen laid out the five projects and their costs to the city and its taxpayers.

The letter illustrates the city’s need for Ecology grant assistance for the upcoming Port Angeles Harbor cleanup study and puts the study’s financial impacts in the context of the city’s other major environmental projects, he said.

“I think the letter will have a positive impact and should increase our opportunity for increased financial assistance,” McKeen said.

Ecology has identified the city and five other entities as “potentially liable parties” in the cleanup of contaminated sediment in the western end of Port Angeles Harbor, meaning the city is on the hook for at least a portion of the cleanup costs.

An Ecology study found harbor sediment to contain pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, mercury and arsenic, most of which are associated with industrial activities that have historically occurred in that portion of the harbor.

The city has chiseled out an agreement with three of the other potentially liable parties — the Port of Port Angeles, Nippon Paper Industries USA and Georgia Pacific LLC (the latter of which historically was briefly involved in ownership of the site now owned by Nippon) — and is planning to pay about $1 million over the next few years for its share of the cleanup costs.

The other two potentially liable parties are the state Department of Natural Resources, since the agency owns some sediment lands in the harbor, and forestry company Merrill & Ring, said Rebecca Lawson, Ecology’s southwest regional toxic cleanup program section manager.

In the near term, the city has instituted a $4.50-per-month surcharge tacked onto wastewater utility billings — set to take effect Jan. 1 and expire June 30, 2015 — to pay the roughly $200,000 in costs leading up to an agreed order that will open the door to potential grant funding from Ecology.

“Our efforts at this time are hopefully leading up to a signed agreed order at the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” McKeen said.

Lawson said the study process, which will include public comment, should take about two years, and after a plan is developed, the harbor cleanup would take between two and four years.

Lawson said the city is eligible for an Ecology grant that would pay for up to 75 percent of the city’s share of the cleanup costs, a funding decision that is ultimately decided by the state Legislature.

“We recognize there is a burden to small communities with a small tax base,” Lawson said, “and we are looking at every possibility to provide help,” adding, “I think it’s helpful to know [the city] needs help.”

According to Ecology rule, however, the city is not eligible for grants to help fund the $42 million combined sewer overflow project, the $16.3 million phase one of which started earlier this year.

The city expects phase one construction to be completed by early 2014, while the final step, which involves improvements to the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, will be finished by Dec. 31, 2015.

The project is to prevent untreated stormwater and sewage overflowing into Port Angeles Harbor during heavy rains.

Ecology requires the city to reduce the number of overflows to one per each of the city’s four combined sewer outfalls per year by 2016 or face fines of up to $10,000 per day for each violation, though Ecology would determine each fine amount on a case-by-case basis, said Deborah Cornett, a unit supervisor for the southwest region of Ecology’s Water Quality Program.

A Port Angeles household consuming more than 430 cubic feet of water per month to the city’s system — the average amount — pays $68.90 monthly in wastewater fees, $20.10, or about 30 percent, of which goes to pay for the city’s combined sewer overflow project.

That charge has increased steadily from $2 per month in 2005 and will expire in 20 years when the city’s bonds and loans for the project are paid off, McKeen said.

City residents using fewer than 430 cubic feet of water per month pay $62 per month, while commercial customers pay at least $17.35 per month plus an additional $5.20 for every 100 cubic feet of water used.

The city did not call for an increase in wastewater rates, other than the wastewater surcharge, for 2013 but did implement a 50 percent increase in 2013 stormwater rates to help pay for the city’s municipal stormwater permit requirements, administered by Ecology.

Ecology has contributed more than $296,000 to help the city meet stormwater regulations, McKeen said.

The city estimates the total costs to comply with the current permit requirements and the 2013-2017 permit renewal at roughly $2.2 million.

To help pay for this, the city has increased the stormwater rate from $6 per month this year to $9 in 2013 and plans to hike it to $12 in 2014, with additional increases leveling out the rate at $17.86 per month over the next five years.

Cornett said each of the city’s different requirements under the stormwater permit have separate deadlines, adding that the city’s submittals for each requirement have been submitted on time.

The city also expects to increase its solid transfer station tipping fees in $5 increments over the next four years to pay for the city’s landfill bluff stabilization project.

Ecology is not requiring the project but is offering technical assistance, said Peter Lyon, the Southwest regional director of Ecology’s Solid Waste and Financial Assistance Program.

This project — which eventually will shore up a failing west Port Angeles bluff that is threatening to release some of the contents of the city’s landfill, capped since 2007, into the Strait of Juan de Fuca — is estimated to cost between $12 million and $20 million, McKeen wrote in a letter.

Construction is expected to begin the middle of 2014, City Engineer Mike Puntenney said.

Self-hauler rates for the regional transfer station increased from $132.40 to $141.95 per ton in 2013, a 7.2 percent increase.

That means costs will be spread among the nearly 40,000 regional residents who use the facility, McKeen said.

The city is not eligible for Ecology grants to help pay for the bluff stabilization project.

The final expense listed in McKeen’s letter is city staff’s work on the update to the city’s shoreline master program, which regulates development along shorelines and inland watersides within the city limit.

In the letter, McKeen said Ecology has given the city $200,000 to help complete this work, under way since 2009, though the city has so far spent slightly more than $500,000 in staff time on it.

“At a time when we are facing layoffs and staff reductions, these costs to our general fund are very difficult to absorb,” McKeen wrote.

The deadline for the city’s update is 2014, with a yearlong extension available, said Paula Ehlers of Ecology.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 27. 2012 6:07PM
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