By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Flanked by Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty and Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd, tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles cut the ceremonial tape to christen Elwha Valley Road near the reservation boundary after prayers and tribal songs.
Nearly 100 rain-soaked onlookers then drove the 1.5-mile road to a reception at the tribal center.
The $9 million, federally funded Elwha Valley Road extends Stratton Road south from the Elwha River Casino to Kacee Way and a three-way stop at the existing Lower Elwha Road just west of William R. Fairchild International Airport.
Tribal members have been concerned for decades that the narrow Lower Elwha Road would bottleneck or be destroyed in a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami, Charles said.
Including shoulders, Elwha Valley Road is 34 feet wide.
Charles said the road's opening was the completion of a “long journey” that began more than a dozen years ago.
“It's been a concern for many of our elders, and many of those that have passed, in regards to the safety from driving out of the reservation,” Charles said.
“We really thank them for their patience that they had in reference to have this road being successful.”
Charles said the Japanese tsunami in March 2011 and more recent damage caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast serve as reminders of the “importance of the access to escape around here.”
Earlier Tuesday, the three county commissioners passed a resolution to establish Kacee Way as a county road.
The county will maintain the 0.64-mile section from Lower Elwha Road to the reservation. The tribe will operate and maintain the three-quarter-mile stretch inside the reservation.
The city of Port Angeles owns the right of way on Kacee Way and a municipal water main that had to be moved to make room for the new road.
City officials granted the county easement for Kacee Way, which parallels the Olympic Discovery Trail until it drops into the reservation as Elwha Valley Road.
The tribe added the access road to its strategic plan in 2000.
Several years later, the tribe received $3.5 million in Public Lands Highway Discretionary funds.
The rest of the funding breaks down as follows:
-- $4 million from Indian Reservation Roads and the Elwha Tribal Council.
-- $1.5 million from the National Park Service for the Elwha River restoration project.
The new tribal fish hatchery — a vital component of the $325 million river restoration project — is located near the bottom of the new road.
Carol Brown, tribal manager of community development, received a standing ovation for her work on the road project.
“Every time I come down here on weekends, I'm always seeing her in her office,” Charles said.
County Engineer Ross Tyler recommended that the county designate Kacee Way as a county road as a “necessity” for tribal access and safety.
City and county officials received pieces of a red cedar tree as gifts from the tribe for their cooperation in the project.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by the three county commissioners, several City Council members and scores of tribal members.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.