Port Angeles City Council OKs harbor cleanup settlement

Body also cuts speed limit on Lincoln Street, opposes roadmap plan

PORT ANGELES — City officials have reached an $800,000 settlement for the long-planned cleanup of western Port Angeles Harbor.

The City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to settle natural resource damage claims that were made in 2012 under the state Model Toxics Control Act. The settlement will be paid by insurance and will be used to support the restoration of the western harbor and lagoon near the foot of Ediz Hook.

City Manager Nathan West said it reflects a “reasonable responsibility” for Port Angeles.

“It does acknowledge the importance of those settlement dollars actually going toward restoration and enhancements to the natural environment within the Port Angeles Harbor, and I think that couldn’t be more important,” West said in a virtual council meeting Tuesday.

Harbor sediments are polluted with cadmium, mercury, zinc, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other contaminants, according to a 2020 remedial investigation/feasibility study led by the state Department of Ecology.

Ecology officials have said it would take about six years to remove the toxic sediments from the sea floor with a combination of dredging, capping and natural recovery.

Other potentially liable parties (PLPs) are the Port of Port Angeles, Georgia-Pacific, Nippon and Merrill & Ring Inc.

The other PLPs have negotiated separate settlements with federal trustees and will pay a combined $8.5 million for their share of the cleanup, Port Angeles City Attorney Bill Bloor said.

The Trustee Council is composed of the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ecology.

Port Angeles City Council member LaTrisha Suggs recused herself from the vote because she works as a restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

Separate from Rayonier

The western harbor cleanup is a separate issue from the Ecology-led, decades-old effort to clean up the contaminated Rayonier mill site in the east harbor near the foot of Ennis Street.

In 2013, the western harbor trustees informed the city that it was one of several PLPs on the hook for natural resource damages (NRD), Bloor said.

“Since that time, we have been negotiating possible resolutions of the NRD damage claims asserted by the federal trustees,” Bloor told the council Tuesday.

“Those have gone through many, many, many negotiations. Fortunately, we have, through all those negotiations, come to a pretty reasonable settlement. The settlement is good for all parties.”

By paying the $800,000, the city will avoid litigation and receive the benefits of a clean harbor, Bloor said.

“It’s good to know that we as a city are able to participate in cleaning up what we’ve polluted,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said, “and to make sure that we can move in a way that allows us to have a harbor that is cleaner and hopefully safer for people and everything else that lives in it.”

Current and past city councils have insisted on a “complete cleanup and restoration” of the harbor and have directed staff to ensure that the city pays no more than its share of the cost, West said.

“Another really important approach that the city has taken is ensuring that the insurance companies are paying for the costs that the city of Port Angeles incurs,” West added.

“That’s something that we will continue to fight for into the future relative to the harbor cleanup and relative to NRD-related damages.”

None of the current council members were seated before 2018.

“This is one thing that we inherited that I feel really good about how we continued the process and where we ended up,” Mayor Kate Dexter said Tuesday.

“It definitely benefits everyone in Port Angeles, not just that we’ve got a clean harbor, but also that we’re not paying more than we should be.”

Speed limit drop

In other action Tuesday, the council voted 7-0 to reduce the speed limit on South Lincoln Street from 30 mph to 25 mph.

The lower speed limit affects the entire stretch of South Lincoln between Front Street and Lauridsen Boulevard and a short section of U.S. Highway 101 from Lauridsen Boulevard to Oak Street.

The ordinance takes effect Sunday.

“This is one of a myriad of different things that we’re planning on introducing to this corridor as a way to provide greater pedestrian safety,” said Thomas Hunter, city public works and utilities director.

City engineers are planning a $1.6 million safety improvement for South Lincoln Street between First and Eighth streets that will include bike lanes and extended sidewalks.

Construction on Lincoln Street is scheduled to begin in July, Hunter said in an email.

Opposing Roadmap plan

Later in the 5½-hour meeting, the council voted 6-0 to co-sign the Clallam County commissioners’ Tuesday letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, opposing his “Roadmap to Recovery Plan” for COVID-19, or to draft a similar letter to be signed by the mayor on behalf of the city.

Council member Brendan Meyer abstained, saying he needed more information.

The commissioners’ frustration stemmed from counties like Snohomish, King and Pierce, which have high COVID-19 infection rates, moving forward to Phase 2, while Clallam and Jefferson counties with significantly lower transmission stay put, Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, has said.

“It’s a frustrating thing that just feels like we’re being punished for having an overall low count of positive transmissions,” Council member Mike French said.

“I don’t want us to move forward too quickly,” French added, “but at the same time, you see other jurisdictions moving forward just because they’re coming down from a very high spike, and so their direction is going down, whereas our direction is kind of just flat, or slightly up from a very low starting point.”

Schromen-Wawrin said Clallam County’s two-week infection rate of 87 cases per 100,000 population was relatively low but remained in the high-risk category.

“We absolutely have to be vigilant as a community and continue to take this seriously,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“But the idea that other communities, with their case rates in the 300s (per 100,000) are moving to Phase 2 and we’re at 87 and we’re not, it just lacks any credibility.”

The council also voted 7-0 to add its opposition to permanent regionalization of public health as a second-tier legislative priority.

The state Legislature is now considering two bills to replace county health departments with regional ones.

“In my mind, a permanent regionalization of our health department would just kind of move all this decision-making closer to Kitsap County,” French said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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