By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES -- Harbor-Works Development Authority faces a fork in the road this summer, with one route leading to dissolution of the authority if it doesn't acquire the site of a former Rayonier pulp mill, a board member told a Chamber of Commerce audience Monday.
The other route -- the one intended when Port Angeles city and port officials created the public development authority in 2008 -- would be acquisition of the waterfront acreage in northeast Port Angeles to speed the site's cleanup and redevelopment, said board member Kaj Ahlburg.
Ahlburg, speaking to about 75 people at a luncheon meeting of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, called the decision one of the most important for Port Angeles.
"Which path we end up taking may well be one the most important decisions affecting the city's economic future within a generation," he said.
If Harbor-Works cannot work out an agreement to acquire the property, it will dissolve at the end of the summer, he said.
He spoke at length of his belief that it would be a detriment to the area if a deal to acquire the property cannot be worked out.
"If there is no deal and Harbor-Works dissolves this summer, it is certain that there will be no remediation for at least four or five years on land and much longer on the harbor bottom," he said.
"The derelict pier and jetty may not be removed until close to the end of the decade.
"Similarly, Ennis Creek will probably not be restored until the end of this decade or into the 2020s."
He did not say what would happen to $1.3 million in seed-money loans from the city and port to the authority for its operations.
He said he believes that if Harbor-Works acquires the property, the state Department of Ecology can be persuaded to allow cleanup to begin even as studies continue.
The pier and jetty in particular could be removed sooner, he said.
He also emphasized that Rayonier would be required to pay for all of the cleanup. Any public funding used would be to develop the site, not for removal of toxins from the soils.
The site, which hosted a pulp mill until 1997, has been a state Department of Ecology cleanup project since 2000.
Ahlburg said he couldn't give specific figures on the value of the land or cost of cleanup.
"If the value of the property once cleaned up is $5 million and the cost of cleanup is $25 million, we would expect Rayonier to pay $20 million," said Jim Hallett, chamber president and also a Harbor-Works board member.
If Harbor-Works does not acquire the property, Ahlburg said he sees a long process for redeveloping the property.
"Even after [10 years of cleanup], redevelopment will be problematic, with issues relating to cultural remains and the large amount of concrete foundations and pilings on the site," he said.
He said Harbor-Works would deal with those issues by applying for grants to remove the structures on the site.
A portion of the property is believed to have some cultural artifacts from an ancient Klallam village near Ennis Creek.
The site plan for Harbor-Works includes grassy areas and a cultural research center to evaluate tribal artifacts, he said.
Ahlburg acknowledged that some residents were asking for the entire area to be rehabilitated into a park-like area, but said Harbor-Works wouldn't pursue that option.
"[The proposal for the cultural resource center and other development on the site] does not satisfy those who want no development of any kind anywhere on the site," he said.
"However, their concept of all parks or open space could not be implemented by Harbor-Works or the port, since the purpose of these entities is restricted to economic development.
"It might also be a challenge to find the money to acquire the property, create a park of that size and then maintain it."
Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at email@example.com.