Enumclaw and Buckley settle dispute with offer of $100,000

The continuing cash clash between Enumclaw city officials and their Buckley counterparts eventually came to include complex engineering data, municipal mathematical methodologies and legal legwork.

But that didn’t force the two sides any closer to settling a dispute over past payments related to the natural gas system that serves residents of both Plateau communities.

But, eventually, money talks. And $100,000 made the ongoing troubles disappear.

The history between the two towns that straddle the White River might be one of mutual agreement, but it seemed there was no middle ground when it came to the recent fracas. Enumclaw claimed it was owed nearly a half-million dollars by its neighbor in Pierce County and equally adamant were those at Buckley City Hall, who asserted they owed nothing.

The fiscal flap came to a skidding stop when Buckley offered $100,000 to make the lingering problem go away.

A brief – and simplified – bit of history

Natural gas service to both Enumclaw and Buckley dates back to 1957. Gas transmission lines run from Auburn, through Enumclaw on to Buckley. Buckley has always paid Enumclaw a fee. The current contract was executed in 1972 and amended twice, in 1983 and 1995.

In recent years, Buckley determined it could not effectively operate its own natural gas  system. Citizens voted to dispose of the utility and a sale to Puget Sound Energy for $5.4 million is scheduled to close on June 30.

That’s where Enumclaw enters the picture. PSE and Enumclaw need to negotiate a new “transportation agreement” so the flow of natural continues unimpeded to Buckley.

As an offshoot of that process, Enumclaw officials determined that Buckley had historically paid too little for what it received. Buckley maintains it paid exactly what the contract called for.

Two letters were delivered from Enumclaw City Hall to Buckley City Hall during the last half of April. The first stated that Buckley owed Enumclaw $388,654; the second letter upped the figure to nearly $475,000.


Buckley gets legal advice

Buckley has employed the Seattle law firm of Ogden Murphy Wallace, which reviewed Enumclaw’s claims for retroactive payments. Finding were presented in a May 2 letter to Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson.

In her subsequent letter to Enumclaw, Johnson wrote, “Buckley vigorously disputes that it owes any money” due to capital improvements to the gas system and, further, the city refuted the methodology used to establish Enumclaw’s claim.

Citing a statute of limitation on contractual items, Buckley was advised by its attorneys that, at most, it could be liable only for expenses since April 2008.

“We believe Enumclaw has slept on its right for too long to recover anything,” with a small, possible exception, the attorney’s letter states. The most Buckley would owe, the attorney stated, was $9,566.


Offer of compromise

Buckley’s most recent letter said it “wants to be a good neighbor, it wishes to put this entire matter behind it and it does not want this issue to interfere with the closing of the sale to PSE.”

With that, Buckley offered $100,000 to settle the issue.

The letter gave Enumclaw until May 14 to accept the cash settlement. Enumclaw took action May 12.