The water facilities along the Elwha River, shown at left in this 2012 aerial photo, are the subject of a dispute between the city of Port Angeles and the National Park Service. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

The water facilities along the Elwha River, shown at left in this 2012 aerial photo, are the subject of a dispute between the city of Port Angeles and the National Park Service. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Meeting with federal officials focuses on Elwha Water Facility impasse

WASHINGTON — Port Angeles city officials sat down with decision makers in the Department of the Interior and National Park Service for the first time in the ongoing disagreement over the Elwha Water Facilities.

City Manager Dan McKeen, who traveled to Washington, D.C., last week and met with Department of the Interior and National Park Service staff Thursday, said the officials could either greatly influence the process or make decisions themselves.

“They are high enough within both the Department of the Interior and within the National Park Service that hopefully they can help make the decisions or influence the decisions to where we can come to an amicable agreement between the city and the National Park Service to transfer the Elwha Water Facilities,” he said Thursday.

McKeen said that because of ongoing settlement negotiations he is unable to provide any details from the meeting, but said it left him hopeful that there will be a solution.

The city has been at an impasse with the federal government over the system that was built as part of the Elwha dam removal project.

The Park Service has wanted to transfer the Elwha River Surface Water Intake facility and treatment plant to the city now that it believes the impacts of the dam removal have ended, but the city disagrees that the impacts are over.

City officials have said they want the Park Service to provide a fund to pay for facility improvements and the annual operation of the intake system, a cost estimated at $750,000 to $1 million that would include hiring up to three new employees.

City officials have said the city doesn’t have the money to pay that cost and that it would need to be passed onto water customers.

“We’ve been, for the last year and a half, working locally in settlement negotiations, but this is the first time it was elevated to the level that it included individuals in Washington, D.C., who can greatly influence the process or make the decisions themselves.”

The National Park Service denied the city’s $60 million claim on the facilities last year and the city was poised to sue the federal government for failing to fill a public records request.

McKeen said the goal all along has been to avoid a lawsuit against the federal government.

When Congress sent the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to President Donald Trump in March, he signed into law language that required the National Park Service to work with the city to help Port Angeles to develop a plan to secure all the necessary permits required to operate the facilities and address whether the city believes capital improvement are required to reduce operating costs.

“We got a provision in the bill that in essence is saying the Park Service can’t unload that water system until there’s agreement worked out with the [Lower Elwha Klallam] tribe and the city,” U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer told the Peninsula Daily News earlier this month. “There’s been some concern that [the city] doesn’t want to end up holding the bag if there’s no agreement.”

The bill didn’t include funding for the Elwha Water Facilities, but the National Park Service will continue operating the facilities through June 2018.

“The Committee urges the parties to reach agreement on transfer within this time period,” the bill says.

McKeen said he couldn’t provide a timeline, but said he hopes to know more before the funding runs out.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, questioned Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke last week, asking for his assurances that the Park Service would continue to work with the city on the transfer of the facility.

“It is my understanding they are in negotiation, and while the two sides remain apart, you have my assurance I am going to get personally involved with it because I just want it settled,” Zinke said Wednesday.

McKeen said city staff were also able to meet with staff from Kilmer’s, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s offices to provide updates on the issue.

“Derek Kilmer has been very supportive in trying to ensure both the National Park Service and city sit down and amicably resolve this issue,” McKeen said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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