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Gas plant protests paused over health concerns, vow to continue

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Members of the Puyallup Tribe, RedLine Tacoma, Tacoma Direct Action, Seattle 350 and other groups protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural plant on the Tacoma Tideflats vow to continue their marches and protests despite several people suffering from respiratory ailments and rashes they claim were caused by exposure to toxic soil being kicked up by the construction equipment.
“Everyone has gotten really sick,” protest organizer Dakota Case said. “I couldn’t remember people’s names that I have known for years.”
Protesters are now planning how to best to proceed safely and hope to get respirators to protect themselves from the dust around the construction site.
“We will definitely be out there this weekend,” he said, noting that a pause after five straight days of nightly protests allows members to rest, regroup and plan their next protests.
The groups are protesting the construction of an 8 million-gallon liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at the corner of East 11th and Alexander Avenue East and its gas pipeline through tribal reservation land on the Tideflats. They fear that the permit process was flawed by allowing a gas facility to be built on contaminated fill dirt and that an incident at the plant could lead to a catastrophe, neither of which were fully addressed in the project’s environmental review. They also worry about the addition of yet another fossil-fuel project on the waterfront and prefer more environmentally friendly energy options.
PSE has long held that the facility will be safe and lead to a cleaner waterfront since the LNG created at the site will provide cleaner-burning fuel for container ships that are facing tighter federal emission standards.
Recent natural gas leaks have raised concerns in the minds of skeptics, however. A gas leak in Federal Way in January, for example, closed a four-block stretch of Pacific Highway until PSE crews could repair the line. The Tacoma Costco had to be evacuated on July 2 due to a leak was caused by an accident inside the building that is under investigation. PSE reached a settlement in June following the explosion of a natural gas line in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood last year. The utility had been fined $2.75 million, but will pay about $1.5 million under an agreement with the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission. PSE could, however, face $1.25 million in other fines if it fails to meet an inspection timeline for its network of gas pipelines.
The concerns about PSE’s Tideflats plant have raised eyebrows in City Hall, with the City Council calling for a multi-year study of land-use rules for future projects on the Tideflats, as well as a council directive to the city’s Planning Commission to draft a list of possible interim regulations that would be in place while the subarea plan process is underway. The next step in the interim regulation effort comes on July 19, when the planning commission will hear more details about what interim regulations city planners recommend for future adoption. The commission is tentatively scheduled to conduct the public hearing on Sept. 20 and make its recommendation to the City Council in October. The City Council would then hold its own public hearing and consider final action in November.
The Port of Tacoma Commission has signed on as a partner in the subarea plan process, which will cost an estimated $1 million, but has come out against any changes to the zoning rules during the process with the argument that short-term rules would cause uncertainty in the marketplace and hamper efforts to draw developments and jobs to the Tideflats.
“We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to clean and protect our environment, and support and grow the valuable family-wage jobs tied to our cargo-handling activities and manufacturing,” said Dick Marzano, Port of Tacoma commission president in an announcement late last month that the port of has joined the national coalition of governments, businesses and universities committed to supporting Paris Agreement climate action. “We must continue to invest local, state and federal resources to combat climate change and hand a sustainable planet to future generations.”