Congressman Derek Kilmer stopped twice in Grays Harbor County on Thursday, and the two meetings couldn’t have taken more varying tones.
At a Hoquiam Rotary Club meeting, Kilmer’s presentation was tame and scripted — a PowerPoint presentation about the federal budget. But at a town hall meeting in Amanda Park, the congressman pushed up his sleeves and tried to placate a mob of constituents concerned with Lake Quinault closures and the Wild Olympics movement.
About 25 people packed into a cramped, warm meeting room at the Amanda Park Timberland Regional Library, some constituents spilling into the hallway, others standing on the porch.
A large majority of those in attendance were locals, and the discussion quickly turned to Lake Quinault, which has been closed to non-tribal fishing since early April and non-tribal boating since early June. The Quinault Indian Nation governs the lake and cited pollution as the main reason for the closures.
Tom Landreth, a long-time property owner, said he’s still not sure exactly why the lake was closed, given that no data has been released regarding water quality. He also said he’s frustrated that Quinault officials haven’t returned his calls or emails.
“For the Quinaults to ban the total use of the lake is, in our view, a violation of our rights,” Landreth said. “We just believe it’s totally wrong what happened here over the summer. We’ve reached out to the Quinaults but we’ve never heard back.”
“They’ve been totally opaque and borderline racist,” he added. “If we don’t know what the problem is, how can we help them?”
Kilmer said he’s reached out to Quinault President Fawn Sharp to let her know that he’s received concerned letters from constituents, and to ask her if she’d like his help in securing federal funding to rehabilitate the lake. She told him that the tribe was in the midst of testing, and that they needed a calm summer on the lake to continue testing.
“This will require the involvement of the community,” Kilmer said. “But we need to remember that they’re a sovereign nation, and we need to respect their treaty rights.”
Andy Mail, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation Tribal Council, said he wants to open a dialogue with Lake Quinault residents to come up with a more reasonable solution — he said he has his doubts about the current closures. “I think they went too far when they stopped everything,” Mail said. “I understand what your concerns are, and we have to get together and talk about this.”
“Don’t call me the tribe, I’m just one little person,” he added.
Mail promised to try to set up a meeting with Quinault officials and Lake Quinault property owners within the next two weeks.
“The summer’s almost over, so let’s get this worked out,” Mail said.
Kilmer said he’s also awaiting a meeting with Quinault leaders to discuss the issue in further detail.
The conversation then turned to the Wild Olympics, a movement to designate more land on the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness. Many of the meeting attendees spoke against the proposal, arguing that the Wild Olympics proposal would decimate the local economy.
But unlike his predecessor, former congressman Norm Dicks, who initially introduced the legislation in Washington D.C., Kilmer hasn’t explicitly said whether he’d support a Wild Olympics bill. After hearing from the packed room on Thursday, his position still hasn’t solidified.
“I come to this as someone who grew up in Port Angeles, and that means a few things,” Kilmer said. “On one hand, I have an appreciation for the assets we have here, and on another I have a sense of the challenges that we’re facing economically. And so, to me it’s important to have a conversation around how we protect environmentally sensitive areas, and also about how we ensure economic opportunity.”
Rotarians receive budget overview
The congressman’s presentation to the Hoquiam Rotary Club was much more calm than his time later in Amanda Park, and mainly covered the federal budget, sequestration and partisan bickering in Washington, D.C.
Kilmer described sequestration as a “poison pill” inserted into federal law that requires Congress to make across the board cuts to federal programs if no budget is approved.
“You wouldn’t make these kinds of cuts in your household budget,” Kilmer said. “And yet, as we’ve all seen, Congress has decided to swallow the poison pill.”
He said Congress should instead try to focus on identifying and cutting wasteful spending — such as the $95 billion in duplicate spending discovered in a study by the Government Accountability Office.
“That’s low-hanging fruit,” Kilmer said. “We should pick that.”
Tim Gibbs, chief operating officer for Greater Grays Harbor Inc., asked the congressman whether he thinks the political climate is getting better in Washington, D.C., and whether it’s likely Congress will get more done in the future. Kilmer said he hopes so, but improvements will be slow.
“My biggest surprise is the amount of time that’s spent on partisan gamesmanship,” Kilmer said. “I wish I could tell you that I can snap my fingers and things will get better overnight.”