Final pact made for Elwha facility: Multi-million dollar settlement has Port Angeles taking over on Tuesday

PORT ANGELES — In what was described as a “final piece” of dam removal, the National Park Service has reached a settlement with the city of Port Angeles over infrastructure built along the Elwha River.

NPS Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith signed Monday a transfer agreement with the city of Port Angeles that ended a two-year dispute over the Elwha Water Facilities.

The Port Angeles City Council approved the pact by unanimous vote July 31.

The Elwha Water Facilities have been operated under an NPS contract with Veolia Corporation since 2011. The city will take over the facilities this coming Tuesday.

Under the terms of the transfer, the city will own and operate the NPS-built infrastructure in exchange for $6.65 million.

The U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the park service, will make a budget request for an additional $2.5 million for the city to maintain and repair the Elwha Water Facility, according to the agreement.

Funding was added to allow the city to transmit up to 30 cubic feet of water per second to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s fish hatchery for 10 years, officials said in a joint statement issued by the NPS on Monday.

“This new agreement between the city and park service is one of the important final pieces of the dam removal process and will benefit the entire community,” Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said in the joint statement.

“The tribe is especially pleased that it incorporates our previously recognized right to receive Elwha River water for our hatchery, which contributes to a recovering fishery that likewise benefits all.”

The fish-blocking dams were removed from 2011 to 2014 as part of the NPS-led $325 million Elwha River restoration project.

The Elwha Water Facilities include a treatment plant, surface water intake, temporary pump diversion facility and other infrastructure that provides industrial water, hatchery water and a back-up supply of potable water for city customers.

Port Angeles gets its municipal water from the Ranney Collector, a groundwater source near the Elwha River. The municipal water treatment plant was transferred to the city in 2011, officials said.

Sediment released during dam removal damaged the Elwha Water Facilities, resulting in a tenfold increase in the cost of providing industrial water from what the city was paying prior to dam removal, city officials said.

The transfer agreement ended a two-year impasse over the facilities and voided a lawsuit that the city had filed against Interior on July 27.

“The agreement is the result of hard work that included the National Park Service, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Department of Interior,” Port Angeles City Manager Dan McKeen said in the joint statement.

“The city is pleased we came to an amicable agreement and now we can focus on an efficient transition and the continuation of providing water to our industrial customers.”

“We are appreciative of the positive cooperation exhibited by the city and the tribe during the negotiations and we are very happy to have reached a satisfactory agreement,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in the statement.

“The city and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe are valued neighbors and important park partners.”

Early in the negotiations, the city has sought $60 million in mitigation funding from Interior as a condition for taking on the Elwha Water Facilities.

That request, which was based on water right protections guaranteed in the 1992 Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act, was denied.

In April, Port Angeles Sissi Bruch, McKeen and a city-hired attorney traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby congressional representatives for mitigation funding and met with high-ranking Interior and NPS staff.

Before voting to approve the transfer agreement last week, Bruch credited Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, and Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, and city staff for their roles in forging an amicable settlement.

Said Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter: “I also am really grateful to be at a point where I think we can show that a dam can be successfully removed.

“I’m hopeful that this will encourage our government to consider removing some of the other dams that are potentially critical for orcas, our local resident pods,” Dexter said before voting to approve the agreement.

“That’s one thing that makes me really excited about this.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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