It is easy to oppose something you don’t like – particularly if it is expensive – but also hard to think objectively if a project will be an inconvenience to you.
Where is the best location for the Sound Transit maintenance facility? This decision will have an impact on any area it is placed in. Because it will serve locations in South King County, it seems obvious that the facility should be in South King County before light rail heads on to Tacoma and eventually Olympia. But other maintenance facilities will be needed in north Seattle and Bellevue as the connections come on line from Snohomish County.
Up until now, it has seemed like the decision was months or even years away. But the Sound Transit board is likely to select a preferred alternative by its Dec. 16 meeting and finalize that selection in late 2022 after further in-depth study. We could get an early clue to their thinking as soon as the Dec. 9 at the meeting of the expansion committee. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, from Bellevue, chairs the expansion committee and says she will come to the Dec. 9 meeting with a recommendation.
One location site is at the Midway Landfill in Kent. The other two sites are in south Federal Way at South 336th Street, which is a 59-acre site between I-5 and Pacific Highway 99. If selected, two churches and two businesses with about 94 employees would need to be relocated along with 73 residential evictions. Also, the area has a minority population of 7,973 people. The 344th Street alternative site is 62 acres and is between I-5 and 18th Place South. Both Federal Way options are projected to cost between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion and could be completed in about three years. If the 344th Street site is selected, it would require Ellenos Yogurt manufacturing and Garagetown private storage to move, including 217 employees along with 60 unit owners and three churches.
The Midway site is the most expensive and would take the longest to build, which troubles the chair of the 18-member Sound Transit board, Kent Keel, who is a University Place City Councilmember and also a member of the system expansion committee. He makes the point that adding more years and billions of dollars doesn’t seem to make sense. However, the board is made up of mostly elected officials who want to be reelected. And most of the public participation has favored the Midway site because no one is inconvenienced, either through their business or home being in the way at that location.
However, that just makes the Midway location the path of least resistance because it is a Superfund waste location fill site. The site is located between S. 240th Street and between Pacific Highway South and I-5. This site is projected to cost $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion and take six to eight years depending on which design is selected. This issue seems like it has been around for many years of controversial debate, but the list was only cut to three sites a few months ago.
The public participation has been mostly those who have a business or home in the two Federal Way locations, and it is easy to understand why they oppose the two Federal Way locations, which is part of the reason that the elected officials in Federal Way oppose the two Federal Way sites. They want to be reelected. Businesses and residences affected have formed a political action Committee of 60-70 residents and have tried to learn where Sound Transit is leaning. The Group is called “Protect Federal Way.” Given the changes in the city council with the recent elections, don’t expect the council to change positions. And it will look like “not in my backyard” will win again.
The Sound Transit Board is governed by 18 elected officials proportional to the population in the Sound Transit district. Ten members are from King County, four are from Pierce County and three are from Snohomish County. The Secretary of Transportation also sits on the board. I’m a little surprised that the Midway site is still in contention given the potential dangers to the future of the Sound Transit staff who will work there, but it is the most politically expedient because no one is inconvenienced by its selection. However, the Sound Transit board is not done with this topic and there are some advantages. The 400 employees who work at the facility will earn about $80,000 per year. The professionals who will build the facility can’t give an iron-clad agreement that nothing will ever happen over to the 30 years or more that Sound Transit employees will work there.
But would you want a relative of yours working at a Superfund site? Even the salaries of the employees didn’t influence the Federal Way council to drop its opposition and they say economic development is important to them. The city of Kent has said it will not oppose the Midway site, and the Puyallup Tribe prefers the Midway site due to the potential impacts to ecosystems such as fish habitats and water resources. And to add to the intrigue, rumors continue to circulate one of the church owners in Federal Way could be a willing seller.
Watch the political messaging after the final vote on which site is selected. Some board members will argue that the Midway site is too expensive or unsafe, while others will message that they were listening to the public should the Midway site be chosen. If the site chosen is Midway, then taxpayer money doesn’t mean much, nor does the safety of future Sound Transit employees. Reelection is what counts.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.