Port Angeles Harbor Clean-up, who’s responsible and why are taxpayers on the hook?

The Harbor Clean-up:

It should be common knowledge by now; the city is listed as one of five “Potentially Liable Parties” responsible for the clean-up of the harbor.  The other potentially liable parties include the Port of Port Angeles, Nippon, Georgia Pacific and Owens Corning; a successor of Fibreboard.  These are businesses who allegedly allowed toxic waste from their facilities into the harbor.  

How the city of Port Angeles got on that list is a stretch.

The pollutants found in sediment in the harbor, according to a study done by the Department of Ecology, include: polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, mercury and arsenic.  

A reasoned response to this is; “How is the city liable for such an array of pollutants when the city produces no products of which these would be a by-product?”

According to city attorney; Bill Bloor, “the city is potentially liable because the city re-routes some of its rain water runoff into nearby creeks running through town.”  

Evidently, because the city impounds some water and re-routes it, the city is potentially liable for polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, mercury and arsenic; according to Bloor.

Whenever the Department of Ecology lists an entity as a “potentially liable party” that entity has an opportunity to protest its inclusion.  Then Ecology must make their case as to how and why they are holding this entity liable.  The city never protested its inclusion to the list of potentially liable parties.  The known polluters can object.  Those not producing toxic waste should certainly object to being placed on such a list.

When asked why the city did not vigorously protest its inclusion on this list Bloor stated it was “part of the city’s strategy” to not protest early on and save its defenses until a later date.

In most rules of court, a party to a case must present its defenses as soon as they are known to them, or risk losing the opportunity of presenting  known defenses later in the process.  When asked if this was a reasonable assessment of the city’s strategy,  Bloor simply smiled.

Both city manager; Dan McKeen and city attorney; Bill Bloor agree in their estimation the city’s costs when actual clean-up costs are tallied will be “de minimus” which is legal jargon for very minimum.  A figure of 2 percent was mentioned as a reasonable figure; possibly $2 million.  If we extrapolate these figures it seems the total harbor clean up costs could soar to $ 100 million.

The city now foots one fourth of the costs of the harbor study.   This money raised from city residents through a so-called “toilet-tax” of $4.50 per home hooked up to the sewer system.  

This toilet tax is set to bring in over $4 million new money, annually, from residents–to study a problem, not created by residents hooked up to the sewer system, yet paying for the study.

A final caution; a lot of court decisions are based upon precedent.  Funding the costs of the study sets a dangerous precedent.  With the city setting a precedent of paying one fourth the costs of the study it would be oh so simple for a judge or jury to set this one/fourth as the city’s responsibility for the entire clean up.  

Misquoting Shakespeare; “Thou cannot protest too much.” when being placed on a list of irresponsible polluters.  

Port Angeles has too proud a citizenry to be so tagged without a vigorous protest–in the courts, in city council chambers and at Farmer‘s Market; down at the Gateway Center.

Editor’s note:  Property tax relief programs are available for senior citizens and disabled persons and others.  Call the Assessor’s office at:  417-2400.  The Treasurer’s office number is: 417-2344.

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