Port of Port Angeles plans to sue insurance carriers over environmental projects

By Paul Gottlieb, January 7, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

Port of Port Angeles commissioners have decided to sue insurance carriers over three environmental cleanup projects.


Commissioners Jim Hallett, John Calhoun and Colleen McAleer voted Tuesday to sue the carriers over three projects in which the port has been identified as a potentially liable party, Calhoun said after the meeting.


“This is legal action to recover what we believed we were buying as part of our insurance policies, which is indemnity against liability,” Calhoun said in an interview.


“These go back to policies we entered into back in the 1980s,” he said.


“There’s a lot at stake.”


The first pleadings in the case will be filed “within the next couple of weeks,” port counsel Simon Barnhart said.


The projects involve environmental cleanup of western Port Angeles Harbor near Tumwater Creek, cleanup of the former Peninsula Plywood mill site on Marine Drive and the marine trades area next to Peninsula Plywood, Calhoun said.


Calhoun made the motion to file the legal action following a 70-minute executive session.


Port commissioners agreed to hire Mark Nadler of the environmental law firm Nadler Law Group of Seattle to sue the insurance carriers, Barnhart said.


Hallett and McAleer did not return calls for comment late Tuesday afternoon.


Where the lawsuit will be filed has not been determined, Calhoun said.


The state Department of Ecology has identified the port as being partially responsible for removing potentially harmful substances from the sites.


For example, Ecology conducted a pollution study between 2008 and 2012 that found “multiple types of pollutants in the Port Angeles Harbor sediments,” according to a staff report to port commissioners.


In the case of Port Angeles Harbor, Ecology also named the city of Port Angeles, Georgia-Pacific LLC, Nippon Paper Industries USA and forest services company Merrill & Ring as at least partially responsible for removing potentially harmful substances.


Who pays the port’s legal costs ­— the port or the port’s insurance — will be determined during the course of the litigation, Barnhart said.


“Costs are matters to be ironed out over time,” he said.


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