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Originally published October 18, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Page modified October 19, 2012 at 11:50 AM

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Longshore union files suit over Sodo site for arena

Longshore workers who depend on the movement of cargo in and out of the Port of Seattle filed suit in King County Superior Court on Thursday over plans to build a new sports arena just blocks from key shipping terminals.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Longshore workers who depend on the movement of cargo in and out of the Port of Seattle filed suit in King County Superior Court on Thursday over plans to build a new sports arena just blocks from key shipping terminals.

The lawsuit alleges that city and county officials, working with investor Chris Hansen, approved an agreement to build the arena in the industrial Sodo neighborhood without first completing an environmental review as required under state law.

The complaint says the agreement will create "irreversible political momentum" in favor of the Sodo site, making the subsequent environmental review and consideration of alternate sites "a sham."

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers announced last week that they would challenge the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) approved Monday by the Seattle and King County councils and signed Tuesday by Mayor Mike McGinn and county Executive Dow Constantine.

"Industrial lands need to be protected for the region and the future of the city. We don't need more traffic. We don't need more congestion," said Max Vekich, a member of the International Executive Board of the longshore workers union.

The lawsuit argues that the agreement with Hansen designates the Sodo location as the project site and devotes 98 percent of the 38-page agreement to planning and financial terms that apply only to that site.

The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the MOU and ensure that the future environmental process does not make the Sodo site "a foregone conclusion."

City Attorney Pete Holmes said last week that the agreement does not preordain that the arena will be built in Sodo.

Holmes said the language in the MOU mandates a full environmental review and consideration of one or more alternative sites, including Seattle Center.

Under the agreement, Holmes said, the environmental review must also analyze traffic impacts, freight movement, Port-terminal operations and the identification of possible mitigation, such as improved freight mobility.

City- and county-council members said they significantly strengthened the State Environment Policy Act (SEPA) provisions of the arena agreement to spell out that no final documents would be executed or siting decisions made until after the environmental impacts were fully known.

"The MOU makes it abundantly clear that no decisions will be made until after the SEPA process is completed," said County Councilmember Joe McDermott.

City Councilmember Tim Burgess said the council consulted with the Port and the longshore workers "to make sure that the SEPA process was more robust and that we would delay any further decisions until that process was totally completed."

The initial agreement, signed by McGinn and Constantine in May, contained just two sentences about the environmental review.

Vekich said union members appreciated the councils' attempts to address their concerns. But he said, "We've been given promises and assurances in the past."

The agreement Hansen reached with the city and county calls for construction of a $490 million sports and entertainment venue financed in part with $200 million in public bonds.

Hansen said his investment team has been "very careful" to follow the legal process.

"We're not trying to circumvent SEPA or the environment," Hansen said Tuesday after the signing ceremony with McGinn and Constantine.

Hansen suggested that since his group was providing the major share of funding, it was appropriate that it propose a site.

City planning officials say the lawsuit won't delay the permitting process for the arena. The city is planning for a November public meeting to take comments on the scope of the environmental review.

Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development, said that process will determine what potential impacts should be evaluated for the current alternatives — the Sodo site, Seattle Center and a no-build option.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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