In last week’s “In Focus” column, Rich Elfers asks, what if the Indians came back today and asked for “just compensation” having sold the island of Manhattan to the Dutch for $24 worth of beads in 1626. He then likens that situation to Enumclaw’s asking compensation for the gas that it delivers to Buckley through its high pressure gas line. A better analogy would be, what if the Indians had entered into a contract with the Dutch to pay them 55 beads per person that passed through Manhattan for the next 388 years. How much would they be owned today? Certainly enough beads to bankrupt all of New York City.
The fact is, Enumclaw did not sell Buckley their pipeline. In 1957, Buckley entered into a contract in which they agreed to pay Enumclaw 55 cents for each therm of gas that passed through Enumclaw’s pipeline and into their city for the next 30 years. (It probably should have been 0.55 cents.) Time seems to have erased evidence of what Buckley actually paid, but it wasn’t the $14 million consistent with the contract and the estimated 26 million therms that they used from the pipeline over the period. Yes, such an amount would have bankrupted Buckley, too. Although a court might uphold Buckley’s debt, no one on Enumclaw’s City Council has mentioned trying to cash in on these ancient follies. Buckley is our friend, neighbor and pipeline partner.
There is, however, a more serious concern. Enumclaw has more recently spent more than $2 million on expansion of the gas line. Buckley’s share is more than will be compensated by the 2.1 cents/therm that the current contract requires, before their gas company is sold to Puget Sound Energy and the partnership dissolved. Should Buckley pay Enumclaw enough to set the books straight? I think so, particularly since they will be receiving $5.4 million from PSE and hence it should be no burden on their citizens.
Equally inane is Elfers’ suggestion that PSE will somehow be offended if Buckley reimburses Enumclaw. His article is entitled “Council risking PSE relationship.” Why would PSE be upset? They wouldn’t even be offended if Enumclaw were to ask them for compensation for Buckley’s indebtedness. They might not pay, but they wouldn’t be offended. PSE is, after all, a very successful corporation. They make decisions based on thorough economic analyses. If they let emotions enter into their decisions they could never have become so successful.