Millions of dollars for Peninsula held up by lack of state capital budget

OLYMPIA — An impasse in the state Legislature over the $4 billion capital construction budget and water rights could mean delays for state-funded projects in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Members of the state House and Senate went home Friday following the adjournment of their third overtime legislative session without passage of the state’s capital budget or, Republicans argue, a permanent fix for concerns over water rights.

For the North Olympic Peninsula, projects in the House’s version of the capital budget include:

• $615,000 to replace the main intake at the Dungeness Hatchery.

• $2.9 million for World War I facilities preservation at Fort Flagler.

• $697,000 for repair or replacement of the pier at Fort Worden State Park.

• $1 million for the Jefferson Healthcare Dental Clinic.

• $610,000 for the North Olympic Healthcare Network in Port Angeles.

• $649,000 for the Spruce Railroad Trail and Daley Rankin Tunnel restoration.

• $1 million for the Port Angeles unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula.

• $3.4 million for a Chimacum Ridge forest pilot.

• $3 million and $1.8 million for fish passage barrier removals along Johnson Creek and an unnamed tributary, both in the Hoko Watershed in western Clallam County.

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, said Friday that budget versions negotiated more recently included funds for a reservoir along the Dungeness River and a boiler for the Clallam County Correctional Facility. Tharinger chairs the House Budget Committee.

Tharinger, along with Democrats Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, represents the 24th District in the Legislature. The 24th District includes all of Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

Statewide, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said the budget impasse keeps a number of projects waiting, including funding for school construction in 34 districts and the addition of beds at Western and Eastern state hospitals.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz on Friday told the Associated Press that the failure to pass a capital budget means the state Department of Natural Resources is short of money to deal with unhealthy forests.

The capital budget includes $15 million to remove trees struck by insect blight, disease or drought. The $15 million would fund a number of forest projects, including thinning 15,000 acres of forests in four fire-prone regions.

What’s the hold up?

In October, the state Supreme Court decided in the Hirst ruling that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must ensure water is available before they issue building permits in certain areas.

Water rights in much of Clallam County are already governed by the Dungeness Water Rule, which allows the exchange of water rights and provides programs to preserve the important resource.

Lawmakers reported that frustrated property owners have spent thousands of dollars to prepare building lots only to discover they now can’t get a building permit. Officials in various counties have said they don’t have the resources to do hydrological studies that would be required under the ruling.

Inslee on Wednesday floated a proposal which would allow property owners impacted by the Hirst ruling to obtain building permits for 24 months. It would also create a legislative task force to work on long-term solutions.

But Republicans in the House and Senate argued that a “permanent fix” is needed now and instead wanted to pass a bill previously passed four times by the Senate aimed at reversing key elements of the Hirst decision.

In a news release, Inslee communications director Jaime Smith said, “It’s clear at this late hour there is no agreement on Hirst or the capital budget.” The Republicans in the House and Senate, she said, “are simply running out the clock with political theatrics.”

Inslee told the Associated Press that he did not want the Legislature to start a fourth special session until leaders were confident they have a deal.

Chapman, the House majority whip, said via email that “House leadership negotiated in good faith on a Hirst court case compromise solution. Every proposal we offered would have provided immediate relief to landowners currently impacted” by the case.

He said he will “remain committed to passing the bi-partisan capital budget and solving the Hirst court case with bi-partisan compromise legislation.”

Tharinger said he was very disappointed by the impasse, especially after all “four corners” — representatives from the majority and minority parties in the House and Senate — gave the capital budget their blessing last Tuesday.

He suggested that water rights are “very complex” and noted that Clallam County’s Dungeness Water Rule took years to work out. “It’s not good legislative brinksmanship” to tie the capital budget and water rights, he added.

Tharinger said he expects legislators will take a short break, likely until the beginning of August, before taking another crack at resolving the impasse.

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Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or mswanson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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