Port Angeles City Council approves funds for next steps in harbor cleanup study
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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The 6-0 vote was Tuesday night. Councilwoman Sissi Bruch abstained because she works for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, which is an “interested party” in the cleanup but not responsible for it.
The council approval of the payment followed a discussion of City Manager Dan McKeen’s and Mayor Cherie Kidd’s efforts to secure a state Department of Ecology $400,000 grant to help the city pay for the harbor cleanup study work.
Ecology is not providing the money, at least not this year.
Rebecca Lawson, Ecology’s southwest region toxics cleanup manager, said Wednesday the department requested $71.5 million for grants across the state but received $62.5 million in the state’s final 2013-2015 budget.
“We did not receive $9 million that we requested, and the city’s project is in that $9 million,” Lawson said.
The request has been resubmitted as part of Ecology’s 2014 supplemental budget request, Lawson explained, though she said she won’t know if this request is approved until potentially next spring.
“It’s really when the Legislature makes their decision on the supplemental budget, whenever that is,” Lawson said.
“It’s their decision.”
McKeen, who said he had not yet heard of the supplemental budget request until told by a Peninsula Daily News reporter Wednesday, said he was extremely grateful for Ecology’s resubmission of the grant request.
“We’d like to let Ecology know we appreciate their recognition of our financial challenges,” McKeen said.
Ecology has named the city, the Port of Port Angeles, Georgia-Pacific LLC, Nippon Paper Industries USA and forest services company Merrill & Ring as at least partly responsible for determining how best to remove contaminants, such as heavy metals, found during Ecology’s 2012 sampling of west harbor sediment.
Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific is identified because it now controls the historical corporate owners of the mill, including Crown Zellerbach, that is now operated by Nippon Paper Industries.
“The goal [of the study and cleanup process] is to be protective of the environment and human health,” Lawson said, “but that process takes a long time and is difficult to achieve.”
The city’s legal requirement to complete its share of studying contaminants found in western harbor sediment led to the city imposing a surcharge, $4.50 per month for the average city utility user, as part of citywide sewer charges.
“As soon as possible, I want that charge off our utility bills,” Kidd said during Tuesday’s meeting.
McKeen said Wednesday that city staff and council members hope Ecology’s grant would shorten the time the sewer surcharge needs to be in place.
“A remedial action grant [from Ecology] would go a long way toward shortening that time frame,” McKeen said.
He said the grant would represent about one-third of the city’s estimated cost to complete what’s called the remedial investigation and feasibility study, or RI/FS, for the western harbor.
Nathan West, city community and economic development director, said the remedial investigation will be an assessment of the specific pollutants found in the harbor, while the feasibility study will determine how best to remove them.
A pool of consultants hired by the city and the other four responsible entities is expected to submit a draft RI/FS report for Ecology review by next spring, West said.
In addition to the surcharge and potential Ecology grant, West said the city is working with at least three of the city’s liability insurance carriers to reimburse certain attorney and consultant costs associated with the RI/FS.
So far, the city has received $5,054 in reimbursed costs from its insurance claims, West added.
“We expect [future] payments will greatly exceed that amount,” McKeen said.
He said he is planning to meet with the insurance carriers during the last week of this month to lay out the city’s expenses to date for three RI/FS process and determine what can be reimbursed.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 16. 2013 5:42PM