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Originally published July 16, 2012 at 7:15 PM | Page modified July 18, 2012 at 5:34 PM

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Arena violates state environmental law, big political donor says

Peter Goldman, environmental lawyer and major campaign contributor, contends an impact analysis must be done before, not after, city and county officials sign the memorandum of understanding.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The sports-arena debate just got more uncomfortable for some local politicians.

Peter Goldman, environmental lawyer and major campaign contributor, contends the arena proposal violates state law.

In a letter sent Friday, Goldman told top Seattle and King County officials they will violate the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by signing an agreement — or memorandum of understanding — with arena investors before conducting a formal analysis of the arena's potential impacts.

Known for his tenacity in running the Washington Forest Law Center, Goldman, who has given $1 million to state and local candidates and causes, says he is not representing anyone but himself.

He said city and county officials, relying on lawyers' advice, argue they can conduct an impact analysis after they sign the agreement, or MOU. But Goldman maintains the proposal requires analysis now.

"SEPA is a stop, look and listen law," the Seattle resident said in an interview. "Where in the MOU have they reserved the right to protect the public interest if you find something that requires mitigation, something that could be prevented?"

The concern is that signing the MOU first creates "irreversible momentum" for the deal, he said.

San Francisco businessman Chris Hansen wants to build a basketball and hockey arena in the Sodo area, a $490 million project with up to $200 million in public investment. The project has the support of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Sung Yang, chief of staff for Constantine, said Goldman is wrong in his view that arena impacts might not be properly mitigated after the MOU is signed.

"I disagree with that conclusion. But more importantly, our legal counsel disagrees," Yang said. "What I want to stress is that full SEPA analysis must be done and will be done. That's why the MOU is very explicitly conditioned on the successful completion of the SEPA process."

Section 5 of the MOU clearly spells out what Yang is arguing, said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for McGinn. That section says, the "Parties acknowledge that the Project is subject to review and potential mitigation under various laws, including the State Environmental Policy Act." And, Pickus says, another section of the MOU notes that public financing of the arena is contingent on the environmental review being completed first.

Beyond the technical aspects, Goldman said the proposal has "gotten to me personally."

He has contributed to the campaigns of Constantine; McGinn; County Councilmembers Bob Ferguson, Joe McDermott, Larry Phillips, Julia Patterson and Pete von Reichbauer; and City Councilmembers Richard Conlin, Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden and Tim Burgess.

Goldman said he finds it offensive that the arena "has risen to the top of what we want to accomplish in this region." He has been an advocate for parks, bike trails, transit and a new waterfront tunnel, among other projects.

He said he suspects some stakeholders will file a SEPA-related lawsuit and that he would strongly consider joining the suit.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or @byoung@seattletimes.com

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