350 Tacoma and the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a legal appeal to the Tacoma Hearing Examiner today to force the City of Tacoma to take a comprehensive look at the environmental harms of permitting a massive warehouse complex in South Tacoma.
The warehouse complex would include four buildings totaling about 2.5 million square feet, comparable in size to 43 football fields, and would be built on top of a community aquifer and a Superfund site. Three quarters of the 147-acre site, which is presently undeveloped space, would be paved over. This could increase flooding and temperatures in the area and change the rate at which the local aquifer is recharged, reducing and contaminating drinking water due to runoff. Other harms could arise from impacts to wildlife, including salmon and steelhead trout from stormwater runoff, and from exposing contaminated soil buried on the site from previous industrial uses.
The warehouse would create thousands of additional trips each day from diesel trucks and other vehicles, generating air and climate pollution, traffic, and noise in already overburdened neighborhoods. The greenhouse gas emissions from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and gas-powered heaters onsite could also thwart Washington’s progress on its climate goals.
Despite vocal opposition from concerned neighbors and environmental and health advocates, the City of Tacoma approved a land use permit for the mega-project earlier this month without requiring an Environmental Impact Statement to examine the project’s environmental, health, and community impacts. The City of Tacoma determined that if the developer, Bridge Industrial, plants trees and makes other minor modifications, the project is not likely to have a significant impact on the neighborhood, and therefore can proceed as planned without further environmental review or community engagement.
The legal challenge asserts that this violates Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and asks the City of Tacoma Hearing Examiner to reverse the City’s SEPA determination and issuance of a land use permit and order the City to conduct a full review of the project’s environmental and health impacts.
The location of the mega warehouse poses serious environmental justice concerns. Given its proximity to I-5 and the Port of Tacoma, the warehouse complex is being marketed as a potential distribution hub to fulfill online orders. However, the project is also located among neighborhoods with houses, apartments, day care facilities, schools, recreational centers, churches, and small businesses.
The currently undeveloped parcel containing wetlands, trees, and grasslands provides rare green space in an area where residents are already disproportionately affected by air, noise, and light pollution. The area has more residents of color than 80-95% of neighborhoods in Washington state and residents who live there have a greater risk of cancer from toxic air pollution and other poor health outcomes than 90-95% of other Washington residents. Currently, Tacoma’s Equity Index rates the project area “low” for equity, “low” for environmental health, and “very low” for livability.
City officials issued a public notice in March 2022 indicating that the City expected not to require an Environmnetal Impact Statement before issuing a permit. Residents and local organizations submitted hundreds of comments detailing concerns about the massive warehouse. In the absence of a full environmental review, many other residents remain unaware of the looming development adjacent to their homes.
“It is shocking that the City of Tacoma thinks it can bypass a full and transparent environmental review of a project of this size,” said Earthjustice attorney Molly Tack-Hooper. “We applaud the many residents and advocates who have worked tirelessly to demand more analysis, transparency, and opportunities for public participation. We’re appealing the City’s decision to ensure that those voices are heard, and that the impacts of the project are fully studied and shared with community members.”
Following is a statement from the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council, one of the appellants in the Hearing Examiner appeal: “In South Tacoma and throughout the state and country, people of color and low-income people are disproportionately exposed to harmful air and water pollution and other environmental burdens. Local land use decisions have been a big driver of that environmental injustice. It is high time for the city to start taking a closer look at industrial projects in overburdened communities before greenlighting them.”
350 Tacoma, also an appellant in the Hearing Examiner appeal, issued this statement: “Washington desperately needs to be cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector to meet our climate targets and minimize devastation to our communities. We’re confident that a full environmental study will show that the proposed project is incompatible with the progress that the state, county, and city need to make on climate. There also must be a complete Health Impact Assessment for this and future such projects.”
The Earthjustice program staff involved in litigation and advocacy about the Bridge Industrial warehouse proposal are Molly Tack-Hooper, Jaimini Parekh, Marisa Ordonia, Noorulanne Jan, and Diana Brechtel.