The City of Tacoma and the Skokomish Indian Tribe officially ended a dispute Monday over a pair of dams on the Olympic Pensinsula that dates to the late 1920s.
Officials from the city-owned Tacoma Public Utilities, the Skokomish tribe and numerous federal agencies gathered for a breakfast meeting at C.I. Shenanigan’s restaurant in Tacoma where they held a ceremonial signing of a settlement that gives the tribe millions of dollars and allows Tacoma Power to continue producing electricity for 40 more years.
The deal calls for the tribe to receive a $12.6 million one-time cash payment, 7.25 percent of the value of electric production from the Cushman No. 2 powerhouse, and transfer of land worth $23 million that includes Camp Cushman on Lake Cushman in Mason County; the 500-acre Nalley Ranch on Hood Canal; and Saltwater Park on Hood Canal.
The agreement, approved by the city last month, resolves a $5.8 billion damage claim from the tribe over a hydroelectric project that has at times either completely or nearly completely diverted the flow of water from the North Fork of the Skokomish River.
The Skokomish Tribal Council approved the settlement at a Jan. 3 meeting, said Joseph Pavel, chairman of the council.
Once it’s approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the deal will allow Tacoma Power to continue operating the hydroelectric project for 40 years.
The original license expired in 1974, and relicensing has been held up in a legal battle since then. Tacoma Power has operated it under short-term licenses while the litigation continued.
Mayor Bill Baarsma called the agreement historic, saying it marks the establishment of a relationship he hopes will last years.
Tom Hilyard, chairman of the Tacoma Public Utilities board of directors, said there are many challenges ahead as the parties implement the terms of the settlement.
He called it a “mutually beneficial agreement that will only get better as time goes by.”
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, praised those who worked on the agreement, noting that he and former Gov. Booth Gardner and former state Ecology Director Chris Gregoire tried to settle it more than 20 years ago “but couldn’t do it.”
“You did it, and you’re in a better place for it,” Dicks said.
The Cushman Project was Tacoma’s first major hydroelectric project. The first dam, completed in 1926, created Lake Cushman, and the second dam, finished four years later, created the smaller Lake Kokanee.
The Skokomish Tribe filed its first lawsuit over the project in 1930, arguing it would wipe out salmon runs. The tribe filed the latest lawsuit in 1999, claiming the project had wiped out treaty-protected fishing hunting grounds and had unlawfully enriched the City of Tacoma for decades.
In an impassioned speech, Pavel called the agreement the first step toward the restoration of the North Fork watershed, which he described as a “truly great resource we have been blessed with.”
With his fiancee and four of his seven children seated nearby, Pavel noted the work that tribal leaders and members put into the struggle.
“My great-grandfather, George Adams, protested this project from its inception,” Pavel said. “My mother (Anne Pavel) was chairman when the license expired in 1974.”
Throughout the struggle, tribal members were steadfast in their resolve to bring back fish runs, win back land and gain relief from flooding, Pavel said.
“And at the end, it would be nice to have some cash, too,” he said.
“The time, energy and talent is disproportionate to anything else this tribe has done, and at great sacrifice to people,” Pavel said.
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542