A piece of driftwood sits on the beach on Friday at the edge of the western portion of Port Angeles Harbor. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A piece of driftwood sits on the beach on Friday at the edge of the western portion of Port Angeles Harbor. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port of Port Angeles nearing deal for harbor cleanup

Potential liable parties also include city of Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles is closer to resolving a major claim over the cleanup of industrial pollution in west Port Angeles Harbor following action from port commissioners.

The city of Port Angeles is not far behind, a city official said.

Following an executive session Tuesday, port commissioners unanimously authorized Executive Director Karen Goschen to settle the claim for a federal natural resource damage assessment associated with the harbor and report back to them with a signed agreement for their approval.

City Attorney Bill Bloor said last week the city, whose borders embrace those waters, is heading in the same direction in that area of the harbor, which does not include the east harbor next to the Rayonier pulp mill site, cleanup of which is governed under a separate process.

Federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) , along with the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Ecology and the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes, will use the resource-damage assessment to evaluate the pollution, according to NOAA.

As trustees, they will identify the best method for restoring the habitat, the extent of that restoration, and assess and restore “the public’s lost use of injured natural resources (e.g., closed recreational fishing or swimming),” according to NOAA.

Compensation by a responsible party, such as the port or city, can consist of restoration projects or financial damages to the trustees to be used for restoration projects, according to the state Department of Ecology, which will be in charge of a cleanup plan under the state Model Toxics Control Act.

“The milestone right now is, we have an agreement in principle, but nothing is signed yet,” board President Steven Burke said after the port commissioners’ meeting.

“I would say we are very close to a big milestone.”

The city and port are potentially responsible parties under the NRDA claim. They are potentially liable parties who will prepare the cleanup plan under Ecology’s oversight.

While the city and port as government entities did not directly foul the harbor with pollution for decades, the timber industries within their jurisdictions did.

“We hope to have an announcement soon on the same topic,” City Attorney Bill Bloor said last week.

The city council could consider the issue as an agenda item as soon as the Feb. 2 meeting.

“It will be good news,” Bloor added.

“It’s very possible the details will be different, but the nature of the announcement will be similar.”

Goschen said she is working closely on the NRDA negotiations with the port’s insurance company, which would pay a settlement.

“We’re working hard with the parties to get the harbor cleaned up,” she said.

Goschen said the port entered into an agreed order with Ecology to amend the original order so the port could draft a cleanup action plan.

“That will go through a public comment period,” she said.

As for the port’s share of the cleanup, “we have not reached agreement with the other PLPs,” Goschen said.

“We still have to talk with them.”

The five potentially liable parties, or PLPs, are the city of Port Angeles, Port of Port Angeles, Georgia-Pacific, Nippon and Merrill & Ring, Inc.

In January 2020, Ecology officials estimated that sediment cleanup in west Port Angeles Harbor could cost $34.4 million and take six years to complete.

Recommended alternatives for three cleanup sites called for a combination of dredging, capping and enhanced natural recovery of the seafloor.

Sediment contaminants include metals such as mercury, cadmium and zinc; dioxins and furans; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Along with the city and port, other potentially liable parties for the cleanup are timber industry companies Georgia-Pacific LLC, Merrill & Ring and Nippon Paper Industries USA, former owner of the mill at the base of Ediz Hook now owned by McKinley Paper Co.

In November, the City Council approved an amended participation agreement with other potentially liable parties and an amended agreed order with Ecology for those parties to prepare a draft cleanup action plan for contaminated sediments in the western harbor and lagoon near the foot of Ediz Hook.

The western harbor area is next to the former Rayonier pulp mill site, where marine waters are being cleaned up under a separate plan being put together by current owner Rayonier A. M. Properties LLC.

A final version of a remedial investigation-feasibility study for the uplands and harbor area that Rayonier A.M. is responsible for cleaning up was scheduled for release in December.

That date has been moved to mid-2021, Rebecca Lawson, Ecology southwest region section manager for Ecology’s toxics cleanup program, said Friday.

The draft study was put out for public comment that will undergo minor changes by Rayonier, Lawson said.

“Those will be finalized, and Rayonier will start to work on their draft cleanup plan,” she said.

The final study will be released by around June, Lawson predicted.

She said within the next few weeks, Ecology will release a “responsiveness summary” to the 165 public comments on the study and will schedule a virtual public meeting on the study.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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