Battelle, the contract agency at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), no longer wants to pursue annexation into the city. Or at least, not yet.
In an Aug. 23 letter to the city, Larry Maples, Pacific Northwest Division facilities and operations director for Battelle, wrote, “The national economic situation has resulted in a reduced demand for growth at our Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL). Because of that, it does not appear as though we will need to expand our operations over the next few years as anticipated when we began this dialog. Therefore we cannot justify the incremental business expense of hooking up to the city’s utilities when we are adequately served by our existing resources.”
Maples addressed his letter to City Manager Steve Burkett.
The annexation would have brought 104 acres of Battelle-owned property into the city, which planned to spend $2.5 million building the necessary water, sewer and road improvements. On Monday, Aug. 27, city councilors told staff to rewrite the request for a Clallam County Opportunity Fund Grant worth $1.2 million, changing the funding’s purpose from the annexation project to improvements to Sequim Bay Road and the area.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said he’s worked with PNNL’s staff for two years on the annexation process.
“Things have changed and they are not likely do this for a few years,” Ritchie said. “It’s just not in the cards right now. We were told even if we brought up all the infrastructure to their doorstep, they don’t have the money to expand right now.”
Greg Koller, manager of news and media relations for PNNL, confirmed that if business conditions change, the agencies would be open to reconsidering annexation.
Battelle plans to keep its current facility and staff and remain in the county.
Ritchie said the city hasn’t invested money into infrastructure for the project but did pay $382,437 for an engineering report.
“It’s not lost but useful for the (John Wayne Enterprises proposed resort) and other developments and helpful for other grant money requests,” he said.
Sequim mayor Ken Hays agreed the city has spent “quite a bit of money” to help make the annexation possible and that he’s frustrated by the decision. But he added that Battelle’s decision reflects exactly the conditions spelled out in the letter. “Battelle is pretty cautious, anyway,” he said.
Under a plan recently proposed by a number of area partners, including Battelle and the Port of Port Angeles, the laboratory site may host a new composites research and development park as a vital component in a larger plan to create a “composites corridor” on the peninsula.
If the funding can be found, more than $100 million would be spent building the “composites manufacturing demonstration facility.”
Sequim officials had hoped to work with the partners to bring the necessary city services to the site to support the expansion.
Koller said the recent letter from Battelle is unrelated to the composites plan. “While Battelle is supportive of partnering with the Port of Port Angeles and others on responding to the Advance Manufacturing Office grant, it is premature for us to commit to the use or transfer of Battelle land. We are in the early stages of discussions to try to sort this out.”
Paul McHugh, who holds the Sequim seat on the Port of Port Angeles commission, isn’t so sure the two are unrelated.
McHugh said the Port has had little success in securing the City of Sequim as a contributing member of the coalition seeking to build the demonstration facility at Battelle.
“All of the other partners are making significant investments on our own in the interest of creating more jobs, more economic opportunity and more manufacturable technology,” he said. “In our view the city hasn’t shared that priority. So far the City of Sequim’s leadership doesn’t seem to be willing to make a commitment. They’re looking for a check, not to invest.”
McHugh referred to a June 25 joint meeting of the Port and the City of Sequim where the two discussed the composites project. He said Port Executive Director Jeff Robb was told before the meeting that City Manager Steve Burkett didn’t want the city council to be fully briefed on the city’s possible role in the project.
“I was frustrated,” McHugh said. “I was told the meeting wouldn’t take place if the Port insisted on providing that information. The city doesn’t have to go along, but everything should be discussed publicly.”
McHugh added, “We’re hopeful something can be accomplished. The partners are moving ahead full speed, but it certainly would help if the City of Sequim would commit beyond what they’ve done now.”
Hays called McHugh’s comments “nonsense,” saying he has long been a proponent of expanding the composites industry on the peninsula. “I was excited about Battelle even before I was on the council,” he said.
Hays admits the project has some tough hurdles ahead.
“Unfortunately, this composites corridor is really dependent on the State of Washington getting behind it — and some major corporations.”
That includes recognizing the possibilities composites have in renewable energy. “The state needs to be behind that, which is a hard sell in Washington,” Hays said. “Everyone thinks we have a lot of renewable energy already.”
Hays said he would support the facility no matter where in Clallam County it may end up.
“Whether they build a facility in Sequim, Port Angeles or Forks, the entire county will benefit.”