Buckley officials hot over gas deal before Enumclaw City Council

Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson - Courtesy photo
Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Tempers are apparently starting to flare on the south side of the White River, as the city of Buckley tires of waiting to consummate its purchase-and-sale agreement with Puget Sound Energy.

The object of Buckley’s ire is the city of Enumclaw, which has issues of its own with PSE, the utility giant that is ready and willing to purchase Buckley’s natural gas utility.

Problem is, Buckley cannot sell and PSE cannot purchase – both remain in limbo, awaiting action by Enumclaw, which some believe has been financially slighted during past decades.

Buckley’s unhappiness was made quite clear in a recent letter, signed by Mayor Pat Johnson and all seven members of the Buckley City Council. The letter was addressed to Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds and the seven members of the Enumclaw Council.

In short, the letter asked that Enumclaw step aside and allow PSE and Buckley to quickly wrap up their contractual dance.

The long story, in shortened form, is this: Buckley voters agreed to sell their gas system to PSE, which can operate the system more efficiently and provide amenities Buckley simply cannot afford. Standing between PSE’s delivery lines and Buckley, however, is the city of Enumclaw. Gas flows through Enumclaw on its way to Buckley and the smaller city to the south pays a fee for the service. Now, PSE will be paying the fee and it has been suggested Enumclaw has historically been underpaid for providing a vital service. Councilman Darrell Dickson has been the leading proponent in arguing that Enumclaw should attempt to recoup past underpayments.

Weeks have passed since an original contract was presented by Enumclaw’s top brass, finally prompting last week’s letter from Buckley that begins on a conciliatory note and builds toward a threatening conclusion.

“You have been given a lot of information to digest and you must do your due diligence before you make any decision,” states the Buckley letter. “We, as elected officials for the City of Buckley, bear that same responsibility for our constituents and are concerned that further delay on your part may adversely impact those that we represent. Every story has two sides and, in the interest of helping to move this issue forward, we feel it important to share our side.”

The letter, which spans nearly 1,800 words, explains the Plateau’s natural gas history, narrates the many contractual changes agreed upon by Buckley and Enumclaw through the years and details Buckley’s decision to sell its system.

“Over the years the Cities of Enumclaw and Buckley have periodically reviewed wheeling charges and adjusted rates to ensure that the deal remained mutually beneficial,” the letter states. “Throughout the 57 year history that both communities have owned and operated the natural gas systems, the City of Buckley has never refused to pay or challenged wheeling charges requested by the City of Enumclaw.”

The tone quickly becomes contentious.

“As representatives of our community, we ... are gravely concerned about the impact that further delay in approving a contract with PSE may have on our constituents and we ask that the Enumclaw City Council expedite the approval of the agreement as initially presented.

The letter notes that PSE’s offer to Enumclaw of $86,000 annually is more than double the most recent agreement between Enumclaw and Buckley.

Finally, Buckley lobs something of a legal ultimatum.

“Does the City of Enumclaw have the financial resources to pay for the legal consequences of its actions?” the letter asks. “Enumclaw is facing a damages claim of several million dollars for intentionally interfering with the business expectancies arising from the PSE/Buckley utility sale.”

In closing, Buckley maintains that if errors were made in the past they must remain in the historic vault.

“Enumclaw has no legal basis to deny a contract to PSE or increase transmission rates because it negotiated a bad rate in the past.”

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