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July 7, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Pro-tunnel campaign shows off environmental support

Posted by Emily Heffter

At a news conference Thursday morning, five longtime environmental activists said they support the Highway 99 tunnel. They're at odds with environmentalist Mayor Mike McGinn and the Sierra Club, which has financed Referendum 1, an effort to stop the tunnel.

The referendum is on the Aug. 16 ballot.

There's a divide among environmentalists, acknowledged Seattle Aquarium chief executive Bob Davidson, one of those on hand to show support for the tunnel. He said people who have been involved in the discussion for years believe in their side of the argument with a religious fervor.

"Rational discussion doesn't carry the day," he said.

The pro-tunnel campaign Let's Move Forward gathered together Davidson and four others, each of whom said they don't generally support highway projects and acknowledged the anti-tunnel crowd makes good points about global warming.

But they said they were won over by a belief the tunnel will take cars off the city streets and make them safer for pedestrians, and by the possibility of a redesigned waterfront without a viaduct in the middle of it.

"If you want to get people out of their cars and get them onto bikes ... the solution is not to turn it into Montlake Boulevard on the bay," said Russ Daggatt, a board member at Earthjustice, a national nonprofit public-interest law firm, and a conservation organization called American Rivers.

Several of them said supporting the tunnel was something of a compromise. "This is not easy, but I think at the end of the day it's the best alternative," said Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center.

Goldman says he voted for McGinn, the city's chief tunnel opponent. But he said he was giving $1,000 to the pro-tunnel campaign.

Kathy Fletcher, founder and former executive director of People for Puget Sound, also said she was an early opponent of a tunnel, but her views changed during the time she sat on a stakeholder committee.

"I cannot see the sense in taking it (the Alaskan Way Viaduct) down and putting all the cars that were on it back on the surface," said Maryanne Tagney-Jones, who serves on the Council of Advisors at the Cascade Land Conservancy.

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