Longshoremen plan to sue over new Sodo arena
The union representing about 3,000 longshoremen said traffic around the arena's proposed site threatens freight movement to Port of Seattle facilities and jeopardizes their jobs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Longshoremen who load and unload cargo on the Seattle waterfront plan to sue the city and county over a proposal to build a new sports arena near Port of Seattle shipping terminals.
They plan to file suit in King County Superior Court once Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine sign an amended agreement with investor Chris Hansen to build a $490 million arena with $200 million of public bonds.
The Seattle City Council and Metropolitan King County Council are scheduled to vote Monday on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines the terms under which the city and county will contribute public money to the arena construction.
Both councils previously have approved the agreement, but both must vote on the same amended language for it to be binding.
"Our union supports the return of the NBA to Seattle, and we are not opposed to an arena somewhere in the Puget Sound region. But we cannot stand idly by while Mr. Hansen and his well-connected lobbyists, along with our elected officials, build an arena in a location that threatens the livelihood of our members and many other workers in the maritime industry and Sodo," said a statement from Cameron Williams, president of Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The union says it will challenge the agreement under the state's environmental-protection laws that require government to consider alternate sites and to take no decisive action on a project before the environmental analysis is completed.
Prominent environmental attorney Peter Goldman, who is representing the union along with Seattle land-use lawyer David Mann, said a court is unlikely to grant a temporary injunction against the arena project because no shovels will go in the ground anytime soon.
But Goldman said the court could void the agreement with Hansen in three to six months.
He said the examination of alternative sites required by state law would be a sham because the MOU names the Sodo location as the project site.
$51 million on land
Hansen has spent $51 million to buy land south of downtown, near the Seahawks and Mariners stadiums, and he has said he's not interested in another location.
City Attorney Pete Holmes said Friday that the agreement with Hansen doesn't violate rules spelled out under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
Holmes noted the MOU mandates completion of a "full SEPA review, including consideration of one or more alternative sites, a comprehensive traffic impact analysis, impacts to freight mobility, Port terminal operations, and identification of possible mitigating actions, such as improvements to freight mobility. ... "
Holmes also noted the agreement with Hansen requires consideration of a "no action" alternative and a site at Seattle Center.
County Councilmember Joe McDermott said the agreement with Hansen does not commit the city or county to Hansen's preferred site.
"I'm confident that by requiring all this analysis, we have set ourselves up to make sound decisions," said McDermott, who chairs the County Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.
A spokesman for Hansen didn't respond to a request for comment.
The Port of Seattle, which has opposed the Sodo location, also didn't weigh in on the lawsuit.
Port Commission President Gael Tarleton, on the eve of the City Council's initial vote to approve the agreement three weeks ago, said the Port remained concerned about siting a new nonindustrial use in the heart of the city's industrial lands.
Merit on both sides
Dave Bricklin, a Seattle land-use attorney who is not involved in the arena project, said both legal arguments have merit.
He said the state Supreme Court has ruled that early government decisions cannot be made before an environmental review is completed, if the decision would create "unstoppable momentum" for a particular outcome.
But, he said, the language of the agreement among the city, county and Hansen says that when the environmental review is undertaken, it will include at least one alternative site.
That suggests decision makers are "keeping their minds open" about the project site and the environmental review is not a sham.
Legally, Bricklin said, "it's a close call."
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