Council approves UW Tacoma marine research agreement

Tacoma City Council members approved a $500,000 agreement Tuesday with the University of Washington Tacoma to study sources and potential treatments for pollution in urban waterways. The research agreement will support an Environmental Science faculty chair to coordinate research for the proposed Urban Waters marine center.

This latest agreement fully endows a Tacoma-based faculty chair. The City’s investment joins the $1 million leadership pledge from the Port of Tacoma, a $500,000 pledge from SSA Marine and $1 million in matching funds from the University of Washington to fully endow the $3 million needed to hire a faculty chair to oversee the research.

“The City has made a substantial investment in cleaning up and restoring our waterways,” said Assistant Public Works Director Karen Larkin. “We believe this research agreement helps us protect the investment that has been so important to our city’s revitalization and the surrounding environment.”

Tacoma’s research agreement specifically calls for scientists to study phthalates, a pollutant found in plastics, detergents, cosmetics and other everyday products. This contaminant, found in the Thea Foss Waterway as well as other areas of Commencement Bay, could pose a recontamination risk to the site of the City’s $90 million Superfund cleanup.

“The City’s contribution brings a long-held dream a lot closer to reality for many in our community,” UWT Chancellor Patricia Spakes said. “This completes funding for the Port of Tacoma Chair, a $3 million endowment that will initially allow us to hire a world-class scientist and administrator in the area of environmental science. This expert will lead a program that will not only help us protect and enhance our natural resources, but will help drive economic development in our region.”

Under the guidance of a scientific advisory board, led by Arthur Nowell, Dean of University of Washington’s College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, the center’s initial research priorities include:

— Invasive species and ballast water from ships

— Bioremediation and other marine biotechnologies to protect cleanup investments in urban estuaries

— Aquaculture

“The City of Tacoma’s action tonight represents significant progress on joint economic development goals by the City and Port,” said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon.

“By strengthening the research capabilities of the UWT, we are building a foundation for higher wage jobs and new businesses for our community, while avoiding the costly environmental problems of the past.”

“The City’s research agreement caps a plan to support the local and regional economy and the health and safety of our community’s waters through research and education,” said Board Chair Bill Philip. “The Urban Waters board is excited to show how environmental leadership can coexist—and even spur—economic development in our region.”

Urban Waters, a marine research center, is a partnership among the City of Tacoma, the University of Washington, Port of Tacoma and civic, business and environmental leaders from across the state. Plans are under way for a permanent research center on the east side of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway to house a team of world-class researchers whose mission is to develop applied scientific solutions to the problems facing urban bay communities.