Ecology requests millions to help pay for Port Angeles environmental projects

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — After a letter was sent to the state Department of Ecology detailing the up to $65.2 million in environmental project costs the city could face over the next 20 years, the state agency has assured city officials that the city is a high priority for receiving Ecology funding to help with two of the projects.

Most significantly, Ecology has included a $6.5 million request in the state's 2013-2015 biennium budget to help the city pay for its upcoming landfill bluff stabilization project, which aims to shore up a failing bluff in west Port Angeles holding back compacted garbage from falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The city expects to spend between $12 million and $20 million to shore up the bluff and plans to raise transfer station tipping fees over the next four years to pay for it.

The $6.5 million figure, however, is far from guaranteed, said Peter Lyon, Ecology's solid waste manager for the agency's southwest regional office, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

The final decision will be up to the state Legislature to work out by this July.

Lyon said the city's landfill stabilization project has been on Ecology's radar for some time, given the potential for significant pollution of the Strait and waterside communities east of Port Angeles if the bluff fails.

Black eye for state

“It would be a black eye for all of Washington,” Lyon said.

The city's particular landfill situation is uncommon, Lyon explained, which prompted Ecology to take the unique step of requesting emergency funding.

“We have never done that, and we don't feel it's necessary for other landfills in Washington,” Lyon said.

Lyon spoke Thursday, a day after Mayor Cherie Kidd and City Manager Dan McKeen received a letter from Sally Toteff, director of Ecology's southwest regional office, which assured the city that the state agency has a commitment to “give priority attention to the city on technical, financial and regulatory matters.”

Toteff's letter was in response to an Oct. 30 letter from McKeen that laid out costs of five Ecology-related projects and asked for grant assistance from the state agency.

McKeen said the projects could cost the city between $57.5 million and $65.5 million over the next 20 years and that Port Angeles residents already have begun to pay for three of them through increases in stormwater and wastewater rates.

The estimated costs to the city of the five major environmental projects are the 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.

Harbor cleanup grant

Ecology's requested $6.5 million for landfill stabilization joins a $400,000 remedial action grant that southwest region Toxics Cleanup Manager Rebecca Lawson asked for last year for cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor.

Lawson said she requested the money before the city sent its letter.

Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent said the letter still served to compile all the city's upcoming projects and helped Ecology officials better understand what those costs could mean to the city.

“I don't know that the letter prompted any big changes, but it certainly was a good way for us to continue communication about these [projects] together,” Hunt said.

The $400,000, also dependent on state Legislature approval, would fund 75 percent of the city's share of the costs associated with cleaning pollutants from the bottom of the western portion of Port Angeles Harbor.

“This is a very high priority for the southwest region,” Lawson said.

“It looks like there's a chance for this to come through.”

The city has a $4.50-per-month surcharge tacked onto wastewater utility billings beginning this month and expiring 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 for the harbor cleanup.

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

Lines of communication

At the Wednesday council meeting, McKeen presented Ecology's letter and said he was glad the lines of communication between the city and Ecology have remained consistently positive.

McKeen said Ecology's letter confirmed the city's high-priority status for help with west Port Angeles Harbor cleanup and pointed out that Ecology was particularly creative in finding a novel way to request funding help for the landfill stabilization project.

“It is urgent, and if we don't deal with it in an expedient matter, it's quite possible we would end up with a much more serious situation if the bluff erodes and garbage ends up in the Strait,” McKeen said.

Mayor Kidd echoed McKeen's comments about the city's relationship with Ecology, saying the agency deserves thanks for paying attention to the city's concerns.

“I feel we're making progress,” Kidd said. “I'm glad they're listening.”

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

Last modified: January 03. 2013 10:00PM
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