Port of Tacoma files suit to keep water initiatives off ballot

By David Guest

Tacoma Daily Index editor

The Port of Tacoma, joined by the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, filed a lawsuit Monday asking Pierce County Superior Court to declare a pair of Save Tacoma Water ballot initiatives invalid.

The initiatives would require voter approval for applications to city utilities to use more than 1 million gallons of water per day. The Save Tacoma Water group formed in response to the planned development of a methanol plant at the former Kaiser smelter site. Northwest Innovation Works, the plant’s developer, terminated its lease with the port for the site in April, effectively canceling the project. The methanol plant would have used an estimated 10-14 million gallons of fresh water per day.

While the methanol project may be dead, the group collecting signatures to put the potentially restrictive water-use measures on the ballot have continued to push to bring the initiatives to a vote.

“We need to plan ahead when it comes to water use,” said Save Tacoma Water attorney and spokesman Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin. “There’s not enough water to go around.”

The Port of Tacoma, business interests and economic development groups call the initiatives “legally flawed.” In a statement, the port claims that the initiatives violate local, state and federal laws by compelling a vote on zoning or development projects and setting conditions for the provision of water which interferes with existing city administrative management of water operations.

“The port, the chamber and the EDD are basically going to court to use the court as a weapon against democracy in Tacoma,” said Schromen-Wawrin. “It’s a kitchen sink lawsuit trying to argue whatever they can to keep the initiatives off the ballot.”

The deadline for signature collection for the initiatives (Initiative 6 and Charter Amendment 5) is June 15, likely before the court issues a ruling.

“The initiatives and the hurdles they seek to impose send a bad message to economic investors that Tacoma-Pierce County no longer welcomes economic investors and new jobs,” Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber president Tom Pierson said in a written statement. “Placing blanket restrictions on development of any project using (a small part of) Tacoma’s water capacity is extreme overregulation that could undermine the needs of our working families and economy.”

 

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