Angry Rep. Buck appears before Transportation Commission
over graving yard issue
OLYMPIA -- Rep. Jim Buck blasted the state Transportation Commission on Wednesday for its abandonment of the multimillion-dollar Port Angeles graving yard project.
``I want to express my extreme displeasure with the entire handling of this situation,'' Buck, R-Joyce, told the commissioners during their monthly meeting in the state capital.
``You have saddled us with a disaster after you abandoned the project without consulting us,'' said the lawmaker, who said he was representing the 24th District's other two legislators, fellow Rep. Lynn Kessler and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, both Hoquiam Democrats.
Buck said the Dec. 21 cancellation of the Hood Canal Bridge graving yard project because of the discovery of Native American remains and artifacts on the property puts a ``cloud'' over the entire Port Angeles waterfront.
At least $58.8 million had been spent on the 22.5-acre project, which was to construct a giant onshore dry dock to build components for a new east half of the Hood Canal Bridge.
The bridge replacement project, originally scheduled for next year, has been held up indefinitely.
``We are furious. You walked away from one half of the gas tax increase passed last year,'' Buck said.
A response by Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald -- who is appointed by the Transportation Commission -- further inflamed Buck, who warned of legislation to give the governor authority over the secretary position.
The Department of Transportation had better find innovative ways to deal with archaeological issues arising on other state projects, Buck told the commissioners.
The project started -- and idled -- in August 2003 when remains of the former Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen were found on the site just east of the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill on Port Angeles Harbor.
After months of negotiations with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, the transportation agency, federal agencies and the tribe struck an agreement in which archaeological digging and removal of remains and artifacts would be conducted simultaneously with limited graving yard construction.
But as more than 300 intact burials and thousands of artifacts were exhumed, the extent of Tse-whit-zen was fully realized.
The Lower Elwha on Dec. 10 asked Transportation to stop all further construction and archeological digging.
MacDonald and then-Gov. Gary Locke halted the project Dec. 21, upsetting many Port Angeles government and business leaders who weren't consulted.
24th District support
The Port Angeles officials had the entire 24th District's clout from both political parties and all local agencies available to help, Buck told the Transportation Commission on Wednesday.
``But we never received a call,'' he said.
Buck said those contacts had access to other property for a tribal cemetery.
The Legislature also had access to capital budget and general fund money so gas taxes wouldn't be used for archaeology, he said.
``And we never got a call'' he said.
Transportation Commission Chairman Dale Stedman of Spokane told Buck that his comments didn't come as a surprise.
But the Transportation Department was being ``pushed and pulled'' by the state's congressional delegation and Locke.
``And they all said you have to get out,'' Stedman said.
Buck replied: ``What are we, chopped liver?''
Stedman said when federal laws are involved, there are other considerations.
``It was pretty apparent what we were facing,'' MacDonald said.
``I can't believe they [in Port Angeles] didn't know this was coming,'' he said regarding the project shutdown.
And MacDonald said there was no groundswell of support for a capital budget bailout of the project.
Buck said after the meeting that MacDonald couldn't have known whether there was a groundswell since he never consulted legislators.
``This shows their misunderstanding of the Legislature's role,'' Buck said
``If their big concern was the feds, it is quite obvious they forgot who they are working for,'' Buck said.
Buck said the bill allowing the governor to hire and fire the transportation secretary is moving through the House Transportation Committee.
``Life as they know it is about to change,'' he vowed.
The Transportation Commission wrapped up two days of meetings in Olympia on Wednesday after four of the seven commissioners met in Port Angeles on Monday night for a community meeting on the graving yard issue.
The commission took no new action on the graving yard at any of the meetings.
Buck blasts State Transportation Commission
State Representative Jim Buck has blasted the Department of Transportation for not working with the community to help save DOT’s Port Angeles dry dock project.
Buck has repeatedly criticized the state’s handling of the 60-million dollar project, which was canceled in mid-December after the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe complained the construction was oblitaerating the ancient village of Tse-whit-zen. That has included calls for a complete investigation into DOT’s spending that much money on the project and then simply walking away from the investment.
Buck took his complaints straight to the State Transportation Commission Wednesday, telling them of his “extreme displeasure” in the way the state has approached the entire problem. He accused the DOT of “saddling” the community with a “disaster” when they abandon the project, with no plans for what’s going to happen now on the key piece of waterfront property.
Buck’s seatmate Lynn Kessler is also getting madder by the minute
and wants the Legislature to play a greater role investigating the
fiasco. More on that tomorrow here on PNN.
RELATED PREVIOUS STORY:
Legislators plan to quiz Transportation Commission on graving
OLYMPIA -- Whether anyone but the Department of Transportation will investigate DOT's abandonment of its Port Angeles graving yard project remains to be seen.
But two or all three of the North Olympic Peninsula's legislators may use the public and legislator comment period of the state Transportation Commission's regular monthly meeting today to ask a few questions of their own.
The commission's two-day monthly meeting continues today in the Transportation Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
The Transportation Commission agenda includes a comment period at 1 p.m. for legislators and the public.
Rep. Jim Buck. R-Joyce, said last week that the three lawmakers ``might want to have a few words'' with the Transportation Commission at its meeting.
Buck, along with Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represent the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
The House Transportation Committee, of which Buck is a member, also has asked the Transportation Audit Performance Board to conduct an audit of DOT's decision to cancel graving yard construction in Port Angeles.
Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald is scheduled to end today's commission meeting with his monthly report at 3:45 p.m.
MacDonald is hired and fired by the independent Transportation Commission, which is appointed by the governor.
Four Transportation Commission members, at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire, hosted a question and answer session in the Port Angeles CrabHouse Restaurant banquet room on Monday.
More than 200 packed the room.
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