By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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City Council members this week approved a $50,000 agreement with Columbus, Ohio-based Layne Christensen Co. to evaluate the city’s Ranney well to determine how Elwha River sediment might be impacting the well and its water pump system.
“The city is moving forward and paying for the evaluation,” City Manager Dan McKeen said Wednesday, adding that he couldn’t speak to the likelihood of the park service reimbursing the city and that “I will continue my discussions with the park on that.”
The Tuesday vote came two weeks after council members delayed a vote on the same issue because they felt the park service should completely fund the study. The Park Service had offered to pay half.
The 6-0 vote, with Councilman Max Mania absent and excused from the meeting, came after a 20-minute executive session held to discuss “legal risk possible to result from council action.”
“I cannot discuss the substance of what was discussed in the executive session,” City Attorney Bill Bloor said after the meeting.
At Tuesday’s meeting, McKeen said the Park Service through Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum had offered to pay
100 percent of the study costs, though with the condition that Layne Christensen contract with the park service, not the city, to conduct the study.
McKeen told council members the city could not accept this condition because it would prevent the city from using the firm as its expert on the Ranney well if it were to enter into an arbitration or mediation process with the Park Service.
“If the [park service] is directly contracted with Layne, that would create a conflict of interest, and we would not be able to use [the firm],” McKeen said.
So, McKeen said, staff recommended not to accept the park service’s offer to pay for the study and continue negotiations with the service on the funding conditions.
“It is staff’s recommendation that we move forward with the test immediately, understanding the park will not be able to fund the [study] at this time,” McKeen said.
McKeen said he expects crews from Layne Christensen to begin their evaluation work no later than mid-August.
The Ranney well collects water from an aquifer along the Elwha River and is the main source of drinking water for city residents and businesses.
City officials have raised concerns in recent months that sediment released because of the National Park Service’s $325 million Elwha River dam-removal project could eventually shorten the life of the well.
In moving to authorize the study, Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said the work needs to begin as soon as possible.
“Time is of the essence, and I don’t think it’s become any less of an issue,” Collins said.
Mayor Cherie Kidd said she was grateful to the park service for offering to pay the full amount, even though it came with a condition the city could not accept.
“At this point, we’re still in negotiations, but that does not take away from the fact that the park stepped up and offered full funding,” Kidd said at the meeting.
“I would like to publicly acknowledge that I’m very grateful to Sarah Creachbaum.”
Kidd said Wednesday she would have liked to settle the issue of park service payment at the meeting, though she said both the city and park service now agree the park service should fund the entire study.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we both agree [the park service] should pay 100 percent. Now we’re negotiating the conditions,” Kidd said.
In addition to authorizing McKeen to sign the agreement with Layne Christensen, the resolution approved Tuesday authorized him to continue to work with the park service to assure a safe water supply for the city and, if necessary, invoke the dispute resolution processes outlined in the Aug. 6, 2004, Memorandum of Understanding between the city, the park service and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe governing the park-service-built Elwha Water Treatment Facilities along the Elwha River.
The “dispute resolution processes” outlined in the memorandum are described in a 265-word clause that lays out how disagreements over responsibilities of each signer should be handled.
If differences arise over how the memorandum is interpreted, the dispute resolution language states, the differences are to be laid out in writing.
A third party, neutral to the three signers of the memorandum, will then be chosen and tasked with mediating the dispute.
“If resolution through non-binding mediation is still not achieved, then the parties may use other legal remedies to resolve the dispute,” the dispute resolution clause states.
Bloor said Wednesday that the language spelling out the dispute processes was added to the resolution approved Tuesday night to allow McKeen to start the dispute resolution process if necessary without further council approval.
“It simply authorizes him,” Bloor said.
“It doesn’t direct him to do that.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.