It’s all a matter of perspective | Rich Elfers

Perspective is everything. It all depends on the eye of the beholder.

Some on the Enumclaw City Council express outrage that the city of Buckley has gotten away with cheap wheeling rates for its natural gas shipped through Enumclaw since 1995. Now that Buckley is about to sell its natural gas facility to Puget Sound Energy for $5.2 million and reap a benefit for its taxpayers, these council members see easy money they can regain for Enumclaw’s ratepayers.

Others see Buckley acting in good faith and cooperation, being a good neighbor and paying more for its natural gas when higher costs were brought to its attention.

Let’s look at these two perspectives a little more closely.

Background: Councilman Darrel Dickson and his father-in-law Hugh Hales pointed out that the city of Enumclaw has been underpaid by the city of Buckley since 1995 for its wheeling charges on the natural gas pipeline that runs from Enumclaw to Buckley. Because of Buckley’s underpayments, three on the Enumclaw Council want that repayment from Buckley before they will sign off on the sale between Buckley and PSE.

Perspective 1: This is the one held by Enumclaw Council members Dickson, Overland and Carstens.

Their view: Our job is to protect our natural gas ratepayers. We want that money back. It is rightfully ours. It is also our responsibility as the Council to bring all aspects of this agreement into the light before signing off on it.

This view includes using a contract stipulation that, if there is a dispute, the two cities are to arbitrate. Initially the Enumclaw Council thought the city had lost more than $2 million. Professor Hales and Chris Searcy compared their figures, and the loss is closer to $400,000.

We would negotiate from that basis with Buckley, according to the view of these council members. We have time, they say. PSE is in no hurry to sign off on this. A lawsuit from Buckley is not immediately in the offing.

Perspective 2: Yes, Buckley underpaid us all those years, and we owe a debt of thanks to Councilman Dickson and his father-in-law for bringing this out, but since the previous contracts were signed off by previous administrations, that is water under the bridge. Previous council decisions should not be second-guessed.

There is also a six-year statute of limitations not yet discussed that would greatly decrease how much money we could actually receive. If we push Buckley too hard and demand too much, we could see the Buckley/PSE contract collapse and Buckley could sue us for the lost income and damages.

The city of Buckley was not being deceptive; they did not know they were underpaying us. Historically, they willingly paid what was asked. Let’s be good neighbors and not try to drag skeletons out of the closet. It’s not worth it.

When all is said and done, which perspective will the Council take? We’ll have to wait and see.

At least, a robust discussion is taking place. The Council is openly debating the issue and reinforcing checks and balances between the Administration and the Council. To our credit we’re far better off than the currently dysfunctional governments of Black Diamond and Maple Valley.

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