PORT ANGELES — The National Park Service has denied Port Angeles’ $60 million claim regarding the Elwha River Surface Water Intake and treatment facilities, continuing the impasse between the city and Park Service.
City Attorney Bill Bloor told the city council this week the city had filed the administrative claim in August to keep litigation open as a possible solution to the continued negotiations over the $25 million system that was built as part of the Elwha dam removal project.
“Last week, the Park Service gave us formal notification they were denying the city’s claim,” he said Tuesday. “Now, we are facing a deadline.”
The Park Service wants to transfer the Water Intake facility and treatment facilities to the city now that it believes the impacts of the dam removal have ended.
The facilities were built to mitigate impacts of the historic $325 million tear-down of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams on the city’s water supply while the dam-depleted river habitat was restored to resurrect several fish species.
The city disagrees that the impacts are over.
Bloor said there is now a limited amount of time to successfully finish negotiations before the city has to file litigation against the federal government. If no solution is reached, the only option for the city will be to sue the federal government, he said.
“We will have no choice,” he said.
The deadline to file litigation is in 18 months, he said in an interview Wednesday. If the city waits any longer, the issue would fall outside the statute of limitations.
He emphasized there will not be a lawsuit filed anytime soon because the park has agreed to continue operating the facilities through 2017 and negotiations are still ongoing. Bloor said the hope is to have the issue resolved through negotiations, but that litigation is an option.
Barb Maynes, Olympic National Park spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the claim out of respect to Port Angeles and because of the Park Service’s attorneys’ advice.
“We are still in very close discussions with the city,” she said. “We’re working very hard, as is the city, to come to a successful resolution.”
The intake structure diverts water for a state Department of Fish and Wildlife fish-rearing channel, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe’s fish hatchery and Nippon Paper Industries USA’s Port Angeles mill.
What the city wants is for the federal government to fulfill its promise of preserving the quality and quantity of water Port Angeles had in 1992 under its municipal and industrial water rights, Bloor said.
“Left unattended, that’s going to be a huge cost to the citizens of Port Angeles,” he said. “At this point in time, they [the Park Service] have not satisfied its obligation under the 1992 act, and the city and citizens are looking in the face of huge excess costs.”
The city has estimated the annual cost of operating the intake system at $750,000 to $1 million, which would include hiring two to three more employees.
Bloor said who will pay to operate the intake system once the Park Service departs also has not been resolved.
If the park provides the city a fund that would pay for operation of the intake system, “there’s no reason for litigation,” he said. “If we can’t achieve that, then the city has a claim for damages.”
Bloor said prior to President Donald J. Trump taking office, the Park Service had agreed to include in its budget money that could be used.
But as the Department of Interior continues to fill now-vacant seats under the new administration, the process of finding financing for the transfer has slowed, Bloor said.
“It’s kind of wait-and-see,” he said.
The city and Park Service also are at an impasse over what to do about the defunct $50 million water treatment plant built to treat sediment-laden water from the dam removal.
City officials have said the city doesn’t want the facility but that the city has no means to remove it.
City officials have had longstanding concerns about the treatment plant and intake system, collectively known as the Elwha Water Facilities.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.