By Kate Reardon
TULALIP — The Tulalip Tribes has filed claims for $36 million over the loss of treaty rights when more than one million salmon and trout were allegedly lost during a 45-year period after dams were built on the Sultan River.
Before a lawsuit can be filed against the city of Everett, Snohomish County and the Snohomish County PUD, the agencies have 60 days to respond to the claims received by the agencies on Monday.
Officials from the three agencies said Monday they still need to review the claims but would be willing to meet with the tribes.
Everett City Attorney Mark Soine said one outcome to the case could mean higher water rates.
"If the city pays out any money on this, it will have an impact on water rates not only for the folks who live in the city of Everett, but for the folks who live outside the city (and buy city water). Who else is going to pay for it?"
The hope is that the issue can be resolved through meetings that the tribes requested be scheduled within the next two to three weeks, said John McCoy, governmental affairs director for the tribes.
The Tulalips are seeking relief for damages for the loss of rights to catch, use and harvest fish in the Puget Sound area.
"We want to resolve this issue," McCoy said. "We know we’ve lost salmon resources, and we just want this property right resolved."
The claims stem from earlier talks among the tribes, Everett and the PUD. In 1980, the PUD paid the tribes $1 million for destruction of fish runs for a 50-year period beginning in 1961. The parties were not able to come to agreement on the pre-1961 fish claims.
In the early 1980s, the Tulalips submitted claims to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice for review and prosecution. After years of studies, BIA took no action on behalf of the tribes, McCoy said.
The tribes believes it is time to act on its own behalf, he said. The tribes have hired the Holland and Hart law firm of Denver, which has been successful in prosecuting similar treaty-based fishing claims for the Nez Perce Tribe against utilities in Idaho and this state.
When the diversion dams were built to glean water and later electricity, no fish ladders were installed so migratory fish have not been able to make their way up river as they once had. Based on a study, the tribes estimate that it lost as many as 1.5 million fish from its tribal catch during the years of 1916 to 1961, McCoy said.
Bruce Jones, attorney with Newton-Kight law firm in Everett, worked for the city during the 1980 discussions with the tribes.
From his past experiences, he said he believes the tribes claim has no merit because the city built the dams with permission from the state.
"Any time you’re touching the water in Everett, you are in to fisheries issues and certainly into issues which the Tulalips have a voice so you have to work things out with them," he said.
"Personally, I think it’s not a claim for which the city should pay damages. I believe the city did everything it needed to do and wasn’t pulling any fast ones on anybody."