Clallam commissioners, Elwha Klallam Tribe stress collaboration in joint meeting

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Commissioners asked during a rare joint meeting this week how they can best partner with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Commissioner Mark Ozias asked tribal members Monday how the county can best take advantage of the tribe’s culture and economic development efforts to better the lives of non-tribal members.

“You’re the heart and soul of this area,” Ozias said during the meeting at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center. “There is so much potential advantage for non-tribal members.”

He said he hopes that by working with the tribe, the area would see not only economic benefits but learn from the tribe’s culture and benefit from tribal programs and experiences.

It was a question that tribal Enterprise Director Michael Peters said was welcome.

He said the county should embrace tribal sovereignty and use the tribe to the economic advantage of the region.

“There are things we can do even though the county can’t because we’re in a different category,” Peters said. He said meetings such as the one Monday are beneficial and give public officials a chance to listen to the tribe.

Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said joint meetings such as the one Monday are rare and that it has been several years since the council and tribe met in a public meeting.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t work together, she said.

Charles said she and other tribal members frequently have individual meetings with public officials.

The tribe doesn’t have to provide the same public notice that other local governments have to provide before holding a meeting, she said.

“We are happy to have ongoing discussions,” she said, adding that she looks forward to more collaboration and partnership.

Charles said it is important for tribal and county governments to work together because they are neighbors.

Tribal officials told county officials that they should pay attention to the tribe’s ongoing efforts along U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles and be prepared for growth.

The tribe is continuing to develop a wellness campus on a 40-acre parcel, and Peters said the tribe is preparing for more economic development adjacent to Elwha Food and Fuel in the coming months.

Peters said the tribe has “several ideas” for the 17-acre property, but the tribe is not ready to share plans publicly.

Charles said the tribe is still making decisions internally.

Tribal officials offered to help the county by hand-delivering correspondence in Washington, D.C.

County Administrator Jim Jones said that in the past 12 years, a county commissioner has made the trip only once.

“If you want us to send a message to D.C. for you, we’ll hand-carry it back,” said Charles. “We want to help you.”

Among the issues tribal members said they hope would be addressed is the bus stop near the Lower Elwha Health Clinic west of Port Angeles.

Charles said patients who use Clallam Transit have to cross the highway as cars speed past.

She said it would help “to have the bus pull into the parking lot so patients and clients don’t have to play chicken running across the highway.”

Ozias said that as an able-bodied person, it can be difficult to cross the highway and that he understands the tribe’s concerns.

Tribal officials said they plan to work with the state Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit in that area to 45 mph amid safety concerns.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.