TACOMA, Wa. (CN) – A federal judge approved a settlement agreement between the Skokomish Tribe and the city of Tacoma’s public utilities department, possibly ending a decade-long, $6 billion litigation dispute over fishing rights and dam construction.
The Skokomish Tribe filed a class action in 1999, claiming that Tacoma’s 75-year-old Cushman hydroelectric dam project has had “pervasive and destructive environmental, economic, social, cultural and other impacts” on the tribe’s fishing rights in the Skokomish River.
It named as defendants the United States, the city of Tacoma, its public utilities department and five board members.
Among other things, the tribe said the two Cushman dams “virtually eliminated the salmon and steelhead productivity of the entire North Fork” of the Skokomish.
The tribe also said the dams caused a “significant rise in groundwater levels beneath the reservation, which reduced the amount of habitable and agricultural land on the reservation, and degraded operation of septic systems during much of the year.”
The 1924 license for the dam project authorized the city to flood 8.8 acres of federal land, but the dams ended up creating two lakes. Lake Cushman has 23 miles of shoreline, and Kokanee Lake is 150 acres.
U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess dismissed the United States as a defendant in 2000, and in 2001 dismissed all the claims against Tacoma.
Burgess found the city had followed regulations when it licensed the dams and that statute of limitations had expired on the tribes’ other claims.
In June 2003, a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit affirmed the decision, and ruled that the tribe’s claims should be transferred to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
From 2007 through 2009, Tacoma and the tribe negotiated a settlement under the supervision of the 9th Circuit’s mediation program to resolve all claims. The agreement became effective on July 18.
The settlement releases all the tribe’s claims against the city of Tacoma and the United States.
To settle their damages claims, the city agreed to pay the tribe $6 million in compensation, $5 million for flood mitigation and $1.6 million to settle the tribe’s trespass claims against the United States.
The settlement also grants $23 million worth of land around the Skokomish River, including a camp on Lake Cushman and a 500-acre ranch and park on the Hood Canal.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan approved the consent decree between parties on Wednesday, finding it to be “fundamentally fair, adequate, and reasonable.”