From the $50 million dollar Turd Tank to the $17 million dollar waterfront redo to the millions spent on the deeply stupid Smart Meter fiasco, the City of Port Angeles has recklessly chosen to take on projects of highly questionable need and/or quality – and their associated mountains of debt – time and time again. Meanwhile, other projects that need attention, and dollars, like the projected $18 million dollars to address the garbage bluff situation, pile on as well. At the same time, much needed basic infrastructure needs continue to go unmet, unfunded, and in many cases are even undiscussed. Anyone who’s driven on local streets knows how many of them need repaired or replaced, for instance. The City is also woefully behind in replacing their street lights and telephone poles – many of which are literally rotting in place.
This year, 2014, the City’s existing debt load reaches a new plateau – a plateau that extends out for at least a decade. As is, this burden of existing debt is completely crushing, totally unsustainable. Anyone want to bet that the City will exercise restraint and resist adding any new debt to it in the next ten years?
There’s that old saying, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Applying that idea to City Hall, you’d think that, even if all this financial irresponsibility wasn’t done with malicious intent, that if it all was 100% due to simple stupidity, they’d occasionally make the right decision, even if by accident. But no. The City is remarkably consistent. They seem to get it wrong, wrong, wrong time after time after time. They just spend, spend, spend, with no end in sight. It’s almost as though there were a concerted effort to drive the City of Port Angeles into financial ruin.
But why would anyone want to do that? Why would anyone want to intentionally drive the City’s finances off a cliff?
Let me follow that up with another question: At the end of the day, what is the one unquestionably valuable resource that the City possesses?
I believe the answer to both questions is the same: Water rights.
The City of Port Angeles has truly remarkable and extremely valuable water rights.
And, unless you’ve been in a coma for the last few years, you know that water is (finally) being seen as the incredibly (financially) valuable resource it is. In an era of climate change, shifting weather patterns, devastating droughts and an ever-increasing population, water has been steadily rising in value as a market commodity. In financial circles, the new saying is that “Water is the new oil.” Companies that deal in water – like Veolia – have been very busy trying to find new sources to serve their rapidly expanding markets.
Thanks for your honesty, sir. Oh, and can
I suggest a place for you to store that bottle?
But how do you get a municipality like, say, Port Angeles, to give up their claims on such a valuable and marketable commodity? You could offer to buy it at market value, but that’s risky, and potentially very, very expensive. Even historically stupid municipalities (like Port Angeles) might realize they’ve got a gold mine on their hands and charge you accordingly – or become your competition. Neither of those are desirable outcomes from the corporate perspective.
But what if…What if you could help manage and manipulate a situation in which the municipality in question was desperate, say, drowning in debt? Just like, gee, Port Angeles is. Further, what if said municipality just happened to have a newer, upgraded water supply system to an existing industrial facility? Just like, say, the new water treatment plant – treating the water to commercial, not industrial, standards – that supplies the Nippon facilities?
What would be even better, from the perspective of a company like Veolia, would be to find an industrial location with an existing water supply, but that would soon be vacant. Like say, the Nippon plant? After all, Nippon reps keep talking about how their paper market is shrinking. And in just a couple more years, if they’ve kept their mill “operational,” they’ll be able to walk away with the millions set aside for them by the National Park Service. If they were to then sell their mill facilities, they now come with their own power plant, and they’re located right next to an existing port – a port that could ship out a lot of water. All a company like Veolia would have to do is convert the mill facilities to bottling facilities, and they’d be sitting very pretty indeed. They’d have new facilities, easy transport, and a ready labor pool that’s desperate and will work cheap, not to mention a City that’s an easy mark and a local political culture rife with corruption.
It seems the only part of this intricate little web that hasn’t come together is the second reservoir that the PUD was supposed to build for the City, but didn’t. You could just see how staff would have able to use a second reservoir as a way to assure the City Council and the public that, even if the new water bottling plant used up all the available water from the Elwha on any given day, the City would still have reserves on hand. When the PUD screwed up, and didn’t provide this candy coating, well, you could see how those involved with such a plan might have been pretty upset – like Glenn Cutler was.
Screening in City Hall, anyone?
Anyway, there you have it. A pretty little scheme right here in little ol’ Port Angeles.
Now, can I absolutely prove all of this? Hell no. But do I absolutely believe that something very close to this is unfolding around us? Hell yes. This is a way to fit all sorts of pieces together, even some that seem at first glance to be random, or unconnected. At the risk of sounding simplistic, this scheme I’ve outlined would pretty much explain everything – the drive for more debt; the behind the scenes scheming to get the NPS to upgrade the water coming in to Nippon to commercial levels; the new water treatment facilities that are designed to treat far more water than the City would ever need now or in the foreseeable future; Cutler’s fury at the PUD.
This would create a situation in which the City selling their water rights would be an “out” from all the debt they’ve taken on. It provides an “out” for Nippon, who clearly won’t need their mill facilities here much longer. And it doesn’t take much to imagine that we’ve got enough greedy, crooked people locally (in City Hall, the County Courthouse, and elsewhere) who would happily take part in such a scheme in order to line their own pockets.
And so, there you have it. I’ve laid out what I think is going on behind the scenes for you to consider and comment on. I’m putting this out there now, because at this point I think I’m much more right than wrong about this. In closing, thanks again for sticking with me through three parts of this. I know it’s a lot to take in altogether, but there was no good way to simplify it without losing crucial details. In any case, I look forward to the discussion that I hope follows this, and to hearing what you all have to say, and what you may have seen or heard yourselves.
The Mayor of Port Angeles - AFTER the fact.