Arena dispute spills over to Eastside rails-to-trails project
The Port of Seattle Commission delayed a final vote on an Eastside rails-to-trails agreement because of a dispute over the proposed Sodo arena.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The ongoing political squabble over a proposed Sodo arena is threatening to derail a hard-fought agreement over an Eastside rails-to-trails project.
The Port of Seattle Commission voted 3-2 to delay the last piece of the deal: transferring 13 miles of an old BNSF Railway corridor to King County. Commissioners cited "issues of trust" with the county as it moves toward a new arena near the Port's crucial industrial area.
"I'm just concerned about this arena proposal that the Port's interests are not being properly taken into account, and it's going way too fast," Port Commissioner John Creighton said at last Tuesday's Port Commission meeting. "Before we can cooperate with the county on a number of issues we really need to understand, how are we going to deal with it?"
The vote raises the temperature on a debate between the Port and the Seattle and King County councils, which are to vote this summer on putting public money toward the arena.
Port staff and commissioners have written letters expressing concern. Now, by delaying the rail-corridor vote, they are threatening to withhold something the county wants.
When BNSF wanted to sell its 42-mile Eastside rail corridor a decade ago, the Port later agreed to buy it for $81 million, since it was a government body that could afford to.
In a complex land deal, the county, Redmond, Kirkland, Sound Transit, Puget Sound Energy and the Cascade Water Alliance agreed to buy back portions of the property to keep the land public for use as a trail. They also agreed to preserve the option of passenger transit in the future.
Tuesday's vote was the last step in the process, transferring the final portion to the county for $15 million, to be paid over three years.
Creighton and Commissioners Rob Holland and Tom Albro voted to delay a vote until after Port staff can do a more thorough analysis of the arena proposal.
"This has nothing to do with the arena, in my opinion," Creighton said in an interview. "It does have to do with the county and the Port's relationship going forward. ... Can we trust each other?"
The Port Commission and Metropolitan King County Council gathered a June 18 joint meeting that was hailed in news releases as historic and successful. Creighton's move, coming so soon after that, was offensive, said Kathy Lambert, a County Council member.
"I think that that's sad that this happened," she said. "I don't think one issue should be held hostage to another issue."
After a first reading of the transfer passed the Port Commission 4-1 at the end of May, trails advocates said they thought it was a done deal.
Doug Schindler, the deputy director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, said his group already had started plans for a news conference and celebration.
"It did feel like at the last second, other politics may have come into play, and it certainly feels like, after a decade of work by so many people, it was just time to finalize this," he said.
King County officials wouldn't say much about the vote.
"We support the Port of Seattle. ... As a county, we think it's great that we have a wonderful working port here in our region," said Sung Yang, chief of staff for King County Executive Dow Constantine. "We do not certainly connect the Eastside rail corridor with the arena project, and don't believe that the two should be connected."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.