Mending minds while settling scores on the Skokomish

Nearly two years of serious negotiations have brought the Skokomish Tribe and city of Tacoma close to an agreement over what to do with the Cushman dams on the North Fork of the Skokomish River.

I was able to report on some broad provisions of the agreement in today’s Kitsap Sun, following the lead of Jason Hagey, a News Tribune reporter who covered a Tacoma City Council meeting where the city agreed to include land as part of a settlement with the tribe.

City Councilman Jake Fey noted that Tacoma had benefited from low electricity rates for decades while ignoring the damage caused to the tribe. Fey said the settlement would help remove a “black mark” regarding Tacoma’s regard for the environment and the tribe, according to Hagey’s report.

I have been following this issue for most of my 31 years as a reporter for the Kitsap Sun. For much of that time, both the tribe and the city believed they held the upper hand in the legal arguments. As a result, both sides looked to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the courts for answers.

After one court threw out a $5.8 billion damage claim made by the tribe against Tacoma and another court said the relicensing process should include both damage mitigation and environmental restoration, suddenly both sides had potentially more to gain — and more to lose — by leaving the judgment to FERC and the courts.

Both the city and the tribe should be given credit for working together, given their 80 years of history in which each side believed it was right.

As for the terms of the settlement, I see where many people are already passing judgment in comments after reading my account in the Sun. And that troubles me. I urge everyone to wait until they see the final settlement, which will deal with a number of environmental issues not yet made public.

I’ll have more to say on this subject in the future, but sometimes a situation is too complex to be boiled down to winners and losers.

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