State lawmaker confirms broaching land swap with tribe at secret meeting last month

Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA -- State Rep. Jim Buck on Monday confirmed a secret meeting in the state capital last month during which he and other legislators discussed offering 320 acres to the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe in return for its agreement to reopen Hood Canal Bridge graving yard construction in Port Angeles.

The 320 acres is managed in the public trust by the Department of Natural Resources.

In a letter to another state representative made public Monday, Buck said the land is worth $2.4 million plus its timber valued at $1.67 million.

Buck also suggested at the March 28 meeting in Olympia that the state purchase Port of Port Angeles land next to the former graving yard site to rebury ancestral Klallam remains that were unearthed at the site.

He proposed that the state design and build a curation facility, finish archaeology and remove remains from the construction site.

Buck enlisted the help of 38th District Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, who acts as a legislative liaison on tribal matters.

McCoy and Buck attended the private meeting, as did Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and members of the Lower Elwha tribe.

Tribal representatives at meeting declined the land offer.

They also refused afterward to discuss the meeting, although one source close to the discussion called Buck's suggestions an ``insult'' and an attempt at ``bribery.''

Lawmakers upset

Those terms, published earlier this month in the Peninsula Daily News, ``stunned'' the legislators, he said.

In a news release Monday, Buck said of the ``insult'' and ``bribery'' comments:

``Nothing could be further from the truth. The proposal was thoughtfully presented in the spirit of good-faith negotiation as a means of keeping the dialogue open.

``My legislative colleagues and I were frustrated and disappointed that the sincerity of our efforts was misrepresented.''

Buck also released the text of his letter to McCoy in which he wrote: ``If there is any interest in a solution along these lines, it will take a lot of legal and legislative work.

``We will need to move pretty fast, and I understand that makes tribal members uneasy.''

Buck's letter recapped his account of events that led up to and followed the December 2004 cancellation of the graving yard project, from which the state Department of Transportation hoped to build concrete anchors and pontoons to repair the east half of the Hood Canal Bridge.

In the letter, Buck lamented that neither state Department of Transportation nor tribal officials contacted local or legislative leaders while excavators and archaeologists uncovered hundreds of intact and partial burials and thousands of artifacts.

The former graving yard overlies the ancestral Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen, where archaeologists have discovered artifacts dating back 2,700 years.

On Dec. 10, the tribe asked that construction cease at the site, and the state did so about two weeks later.

By that time, $58.8 million had been spent. Since then, archaeological excavations have been covered with clean fill, and the site has been secured against trespassers.

Critical of decision

Port Angeles city and civic leaders have criticized the tribe's decision, although elected officials who include Gov. Christine Gregoire, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Shoreline, and Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, have acceded to the Lower Elwha request.

``I am sorry that this project has had such an unpleasant impact on the communities of the Olympic Peninsula,'' Buck wrote to McCoy.

``I hope this offer to resolve the situation is considered with the good will with which it is presented.''

Buck released the letter to the Port Angeles-based Peninsula News Network after its owner and news director, Dennis Bragg, filed a pubic records request with the chief clerk of the state House of Representatives.

Participants had agreed to keep the meeting confidential, but word of it was leaked to Peninsula Daily News, which reported that the tribe had declined a last-ditch offer to reopen the graving yard.

Subsequently, Buck's offer of the DNR land was leaked through Kiewit General Construction Co., the Poulsbo contractor for the graving yard. That offer also appeared in PDN.

Buck's release of his letter on Monday was the first confirmation that Port of Port Angeles property had been included in the proposal and that he suggested the state build a curation facility on the waterfront.

``Now that the document has been made public,'' Buck said, ``the media, elected officials, and private citizens can judge for themselves whether the wording of the proposal is disrespectful or if it suggests an inappropriate or illegal inducement.

``I would have preferred that our negotiations had not been undermined, but hopefully full disclosure of the proposal will help clear the air and put to rest some serious misconceptions about what we are trying to accomplish.''


Rep. Buck's letter


Printed in the Peninsula Daily News

FOLLOWING IS THE text of a letter written last month by Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, to Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville.

McCoy is the state House of Representatives' liaison between the lower chamber and tribes in the state, and was asked to participate in a meeting between North Olympic Peninsula lawmakers and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

Dear Representative McCoy,

Thank you for offering to help try to find a solution to the graving yard impasse in Port Angeles. These are my thoughts and my thoughts only.

If there is any interest in a solution along these lines it will take a lot of legal and legislative work. We will need to move pretty fast, and I understand that makes tribal members uneasy.

As you know, WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation] failed to recognize that it would need help from the City of Port Angeles, the Port of Port Angeles and Clallam County to deal with the needs of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT).

The local governments offered WSDOT and the LEKT the combined bipartisan political support of the North Olympic Peninsula to find a suitable place for reinterment of the remains, support for completion of the archaeology and a curation facility for the study and display of the recovered artifacts.

The local governments understood that WSDOT could not use gas tax money to pay for these facilities, and that legislative action would be required. This offer was made in November of 2003.

WSDOT and the LEKT agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding in March of 2004 which permitted archaeology and recovery of remains to proceed along with construction of the graving yard.

This happened after the end of the 2004 Legislative session so there was no opportunity to include appropriations because no one knew how big a piece of property would be needed or how big a curation facility should be built.

Unfortunately, neither the LEKT nor WSDOT contacted the local governments for help as the project moved through the summer and into the fall.

The LEKT was concerned they would not have enough time to move all of their ancestors, and WSDOT was concerned about not meeting their schedule.

Finally, LEKT asked WSDOT to leave the site and WSDOT agreed.

These actions led to an impasse between the LEKT, who insists the site be used for reinterment of remains, and the local governments, who insist that a settlement be reached that provides for the completion of the project.

This letter is intended to provide a suggestion to end the impasse.

The LEKT reservation rests on two widely separated pieces of land separated by Department of Natural Resources (DNR) transfer land near the mouth of the Elwha River. The DNR manages blocks of land in Section 33 and 34 which total 320 acres. The estimated value of the lands and timber is $4,070,000.

The Port of Port Angeles owns somewhere between 4 and 9 acres of land west of the graving yard site and up to 18 acres of land east of the graving yard site.

I propose that the State of Washington offer some combination of the following in exchange for the right to complete the graving yard project:

* 1. Washington to transfer the 320 acres in Sections 33 and 34 to the LEKT to join the two parts of the reservation.

* 2. Washington to purchase from the Port of Port Angeles a suitable sized parcel of property east or west of the graving yard site for re-interment of remains and a curation facility.

* 3. Washington to make a capital budget appropriation for design and construction of a curation facility.

* 4. Washington to make a general fund appropriation for completion of the archaeology and completion of removal of remains from the site.

I am sorry that this project has had such an unpleasant impact on the communities of the Olympic Peninsula. Please feel free to discuss the proposal with Chairman [Frances G.] Charles and the LEKT Council, elders and community.

I hope this offer to resolve the situation is considered with the good will with which it is presented. Thank you again for offering to help, and I look forward to hearing about your discussions.

Best wishes,

Jim Buck




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