PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners have weighed in on draft environmental impact statements for the state’s 10-year timber harvest target and protections for the marbled murrelet.
Commissioners Mark Ozias and Randy Johnson approved Tuesday a hastily composed letter to the state Department of Natural Resources urging the agency to include economic impacts, including indirect jobs, in its analysis of the proposed sustainable harvest calculation for the next decade and long-term conservation of the threatened seabird.
Commissioner Bill Peach was absent from the county meeting because he was serving as vice chair of the state Board of Natural Resources in a meeting in Olympia.
“Currently, the potential harvest numbers are aggregated in such a way as to obscure the ramifications and economic impact to Clallam County,” according to the letter, which Ozias read into the record.
“We do appreciate that all listed options evaluate most of the potential environmental alternatives, including carbon sequestration, protection of riparian-dependent species, spotted owl protection and an increase in structurally complex forest cover.
“A more detailed economic analysis as suggested above would help all timber counties weigh environmental concerns with economic impact.”
The county letter uses excerpts from drafts that Ozias and Johnson had prepared prior to the meeting.
Commissioners added the letter to their agenda after a joint meeting with Port of Port Angeles commissioners Monday. Olympus Consulting presented an economic analysis of the alternatives that DNR is considering for its decadal harvest calculation at the joint meeting.
Revenue from timber harvests on state-managed trust lands support timber counties, public schools and universities, and a host of junior taxing districts such as hospitals and fire departments.
Port commissioners approved a letter on the draft environmental impact statements Monday. Port officials are advocating an alternative with the most harvest volume and most positive impact to rural economies and employment levels.
Despite reservations about the public process that led to the adoption of the county letter, Ozias said he would support a general comment to DNR to give the county standing to weigh in on the final environmental impact statements.
Ozias said he was “not comfortable” including information from Olympus Consulting that would seem to indicate a preference among the alternatives.
“I don’t think that we’ve had the appropriate public discussion or discussion amongst ourselves, not to mention soliciting input from the public about those alternatives,” Ozias said.
“We haven’t worked to educate the public about what they are and what they might mean.
“The economic analysis that was done is complex, and I didn’t have the benefit of having a conversation with Olympus Consulting to learn about their methodology or the parameters of the study,” Ozias added.
“And I’m very hesitant to refer to that study specifically given those circumstances.”
Ozias said he was aware that the port had pursued a contract with Olympus Consulting and had asked the county to split the cost.
“But I didn’t find out until after the fact that that contract had been agreed to and signed,” Ozias said.
“And again, I didn’t get the opportunity to speak with or interact with the consultants to understand or have any input on what they were doing. And consequently, neither did the public.”
Looking ahead, Ozias said he hoped the county would a do better job of keeping the public in mind when delving into an issue as complex and vital as DNR timber management.
Johnson said the deadline for the public comment period had been in place for “quite awhile.”
“To be quite honest, I spent this weekend reviewing those [environmental impact statements] in fairly great detail,” Johnson said.
“And given my economic background, I was more concerned after I read them than I was before.”
While both protect the environment, the difference in timber revenue in two alternatives identified by DNR is about $5 million per year for the next 10 years, Johnson said.
“That’s important to me,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the port took the lead in hiring the consultant because its Timber Advisory Committee had discussed the issue in detail.
“I’ll fall on the sword,” Johnson told Ozias. “I will tell you, I should have kept you better briefed about what this was. But, of course, this was all coming crashing into the time date that we have.”
Clallam County needed to submit a letter on DNR’s draft environmental impacts statements to have a “placeholder” for future comments to the agency, Johnson said.
“Before, when the county didn’t respond to the prior timber harvest levels and all those things, we didn’t have a place at the table for 10 years,” Johnson said, referring to the 2005-14 harvest calculation.
“And the city of Forks is the one carrying the water for the entire county. In my mind, because of the economic multiplier effect that one has in this county, that is not a good place to be.”
Ozias agreed to work with Johnson to develop a more general letter to DNR that spoke to the importance of an economic analysis without favoring any particular alternative or referencing the Olympus Consulting study.
“While I admit to having hurt feelings about this, my real concern is that because of the hurry, the public has not had a chance to understand our thinking, to hear about our thinking, to hear about why it’s important, to learn about the alternatives,” Ozias said.
“There’s probably not a bigger or more complex issue that impacts all of us because of the financial consequences than this.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.