Federal Way mayor supports landfill site for light rail yard

Christian Faith Center, industrial area in Federal Way amongst 6 sites Sound Transit is eyeing.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell has joined officials in neighboring cities in support of the former Midway Landfill in Kent as a possible site for Sound Transit’s new operations and maintenance facility for light rail cars.

The agency has identified six potential sites, including two Federal Way locations: Christian Faith Center at 33645 20th Ave. S. and an industrial area at South 344th Street near Interstate-5, according to Sound Transit public information officer Scott Thompson.

A Jan. 2 letter to the Sound Transit Board from Ferrell, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias expressed their joint preference for the Midway Landfill site. The area sits west of Interstate 5 and east of Pacific Highway South between South 246th and South 252nd streets.

They said siting this project on the landfill “has the potential to provide a future for land that has almost no other possible use, thereby providing a regional solution to a regional issue. Not only would this action put an otherwise blighted, publicly-owned property to productive use, but it would also avoid the needless condemnation of private property and unnecessary displacement of significant economic activity.”

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, however, said the agency has several concerns about building on the landfill, which closed in 1983 and covers 60 acres.

“A number of people have spoken in favor of perhaps locating the site at the landfill, and that is one of the sites we will consider,” Rogoff said. “But people need to understand that landfill site is a Superfund site, and building on that site could pose significant environmental risks – not just to neighbors – but to our workers.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the landfill as contaminated by hazardous waste. The site has been cleaned up and is monitored, which Kent city officials claim make it ready for development.

Rogoff said costs to develop the landfill could be prohibitive.

“Our preliminary analysis indicates that locating the maintenance facility by having to build over the landfill could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs in comparison to some of the other sites under consideration,” Rogoff said. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs that would have to be paid by taxpayers across King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. … The landfill site is not an easy solution. … We will consider it and evaluate it, just like we will the Dick’s site and the other sites.”

In the joint letter, the city officials also requested that the Lowe’s and Dick’s Drive-In option in Kent be eliminated from further consideration as Sound Transit’s process begins the EIS evaluation phase.

Sound Transit’s consideration of the Dick’s Drive-In site was met with recent criticism as the Kent City Council unanimously passed an emergency zoning ordinance on Jan. 15 to prohibit the agency from building the 30-acre maintenance facility that would remove Lowe’s, Dick’s Drive-In and other businesses.

Despite the public backlash, Rogoff said the agency plans to keep the Dick’s Drive-In/Lowe’s properties on a list of potential sites.

Rogoff had a press briefing on Jan. 17 in Seattle in response to Dick’s Drive-In owners and Kent city leaders asking for the site at the southeast corner of South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South be removed the list of sites. Dick’s Drive-In just opened in December, south of Lowe’s.

“Yes, demolishing a newly built facility would be really unfortunate,” Rogoff said. “But some of the other alternatives involve demolishing a very large church or demolishing dozens of existing neighborhood homes.”

A Sound Transit spokesman said the neighborhood Rogoff was referring to is in unincorporated King County (South 316th Street and Military Road South).

Neither Thompson nor Federal Way communications coordinator Tyler Hemstreet could provide exact details on the potential impacts to the South 344th Street site in Federal Way. Hemstreet said the city will hold a study session with Sound Transit regarding the facility at 5 p.m. Feb. 19.

Sound Transit has an operations and maintenance facility in South Seattle and is building a similar facility in Bellevue to handle light rail expansion. The agency needs another maintenance facility on the south end to handle more light rails cars as it extends the system from SeaTac to Federal Way by 2024 and to the Tacoma Dome by 2030.

Construction to extend the light rail line 7.8 miles from SeaTac to Federal Way is expected to start later this year and be completed in 2024. The line will include light rail stations in Kent near 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South as well as South 272nd Street near I-5.

Editor Carrie Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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