Mega Warehouse Permitted for South Tacoma

The City of Tacoma Planning and Development Services Department has permitted Bridge Industrial‘s 2.5 million square foot warehouse in South Tacoma (LU21-0125) without a full Environmental Impact Statement. The proposal estimates that traffic will be increased by 5,000 vehicle trips a day, but the size requires more like 10,000-12,000 new vehicle trips per day. 

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Why this Mega Warehouse is Not Good For Our Neighborhoods:

Health Impacts: The proposed warehouse could add 10,000-12,000 new vehicle trips a day in our city. The vehicle exhaust will pollute the air and make local residents sicker. South Tacoma already has the worst air quality, the shortest lifespans, and among the highest incidence of low birth rates and heart disease death rates in all of Pierce County. All these health problems are made much worse due to vehicle emissions. Diesel exhaust is the main contributor to cancer risk from air toxins. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Community Air Tool and the Department of Health Environmental Health Disparities Map all show South Tacoma as an especially vulnerable and overburdened community, with high levels of environmental injustice and health inequity. The zip codes surrounding the construction include the poorest and most diverse sections of Tacoma, with some of the worst “Health Equity” ratings. National, state and local agencies underscore these concerns in their comment letters on the project. Read the letter from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department here.

US EPA Region 10 recommends “a more robust analysis of the project’s impacts to communities with environmental justice [EJ] concerns… EPA is concerned that the project development will further exacerbate a historically over-burdened community.” The State of Washington Department of Health wants the company to “include a justice-focused” approach and “reduce health disparities by promoting environmental justice.” The State of Washington Department of Ecology notes that “HEAL [is] now a statutory obligation. There are clear EJ concerns with the project” and “EJ is a high priority… we strive to eliminate environmental and health disparities by prioritizing communities with EJ concerns.”  The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency also identifies “this area as an overburdened community,” while the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department identifies the terrible environmental health disparities of the area a rank of 10/10, short lifespan (6 years shorter than county average), low birth weights, high cardiovascular deaths. Air quality is already worse in South Tacoma due to historic redlining. Industrial warehouses nationwide are more often placed in poor, minority, and overly polluted areas – a classic case of environmental injustice

Traffic Congestion & Safety: This warehouse complex would interrupt a residential community. Children & adults ride bicycles, walk and play near these streets that also include school crossings. Traffic is already congested in this area during peak travel times and can not support such a massive increase, especially the 56th st I5 freeway exit. Adding this much industrial traffic is counter to the City’s Vision Zero Plan.

Paving Over Our Aquifer: The construction will come within 25 feet of the upper section of salmonid Flett Creek, which joins Chambers Creek and ends up in Chambers Bay of Puget Sound (Salish Sea). Four adjoining wetlands recharge the aquifer below. Instead of nurturing this ecosystem, all but 25 acres of the 150 acre plot of land will be paved over. As climate change continues, we can expect less glacier melt, more summers without rain, and more droughts, causing us to rely more heavily on our aquifers for drinking water. Check out this blog page to learn more.

Loss of Trees & Wetlands: This area has lush tree stands dotted around the property and the creek and wetlands, some of which are scheduled to be razed. South Tacoma is already extremely limited in its tree canopy, green space, and parks. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s letter in response to this construction asks for an INCREASE in tree canopy by 30% in order to reduce heat island effects in this hottest of neighborhoods. The property currently supports coyotes, red-tailed hawks, a variety of wetland birds, and many types of small mammals, as well as serves as a stopping point for migrating birds. The carbon that is captured, and the cooling effect of the undeveloped land, are important elements in sustaining South Tacoma’s livability in a globally changing climate. Paving over this much green space is in opposition to Tacoma’s Urban Forest Management Plan. Check out this blog for a more in depth look at how trees and wetlands would be impacted.

Climate: This project is in opposition to Tacoma’s Climate Emergency Declaration & Climate Action Plan. The greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings & associated vehicles will be significant. The climate action plan also claims it “centers equity, anti-racism, and transformation” and it “will take action for healthy, affordable housing; clean, reliable transportation; and green, good-paying jobs”. The placement of this facility in an already overburdened & formerly redlined neighborhood is clearly not centering equity and anti-racism. 

Quality of Jobs Created: While touted as an opportunity for family wage job creation, that is unlikely to happen. Truck drivers and last mile delivery drivers are often not high-wage or union jobs. Some warehouse employers, such as Amazon, hold a reputation for terrible working conditions. Potentially using automated equipment in the warehouses could reduce the number of jobs created. The Teamsters No 28 are opposed to this proposed warehouse complex as well as United Food & Commercial Workers Local 367.

Risk of More Salmon Die-offs: The complex will have an extremely concentrated presence of vehicles as a functioning warehouse. We’ve known since 2020 that the culprit in Pacific Northwest salmon die-offs is from the tiny amounts of chemicals shed by tires and washed into waterways. “Samples taken from urban streams around Puget Sound, near Seattle, and subsequent laboratory work identified a substance called 6PPD, which is used as a preservative for car tires, as the toxic chemical responsible for killing the salmon.” The newly paved 125 acres of land will have stormwater catchments trying to control run-off – right within 25 feet of the upper reaches of Flett Creek, which “conveys to Chambers Creek” according to Bridge Industrial’s own submitted materials. Chambers Creek is a salmonid creek and empties into Puget Sound. Can you just imagine what will happen during one of our atmospheric rivers?

Permit Process Updates

Response to Hearing Examiner Ruling by 350 Tacoma & the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council:

Although South Tacoma Neighborhood Council (STNC) and 350 Tacoma do not agree with the Hearing Examiner’s ruling nor current Planning Department policies (which allow approval of dangerous and damaging permits without proper consideration of Environmental Justice or Public Health effects, as so often happens in overburdened “sacrifice” communities such as ours in South Tacoma), we do not have the legal assistance nor funds to appeal the matter further at this time.

We are sad to see the City of Tacoma repeating its long-established harmful and dismissive practice of systemic injustice to one of its most low-income, diverse and underrepresented neighborhoods, allowing out-of-town corporations (which do not invest their profit locally or for the betterment of the community) to take advantage of this city’s ongoing lax policies and outdated heavy industrial zoning.

STNC and 350 Tacoma are proud to continue advocating for the deserving residents of South Tacoma and this wrongly mistreated area, and are disappointed in the inadequate codes which still leave us vulnerable to future polluting and deforestation, further threatening the health of our environment and community.  However, we remain committed to review every option and pursue every avenue ahead, to improve South Tacoma and counteract the hazards to come.

Tacoma Hearing Examiner Upholds the Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance October 2023

PDF of Hearing Examiner’s Findings: 

Appeal of the Determination of Mitigated Non-Significance Awaits a Decision August 2023

The hearing challenging the city’s decision to permit the mega warehouse with a Determination of Mitigated Non-Significance began July 25th and lasted 5 full days. The decision is now still in the hands of the city’s Hearing Examiner. We await his decision, after which time any of the parties could appeal his decision to a higher court. It is thought that the Hearing Examiner will “likely” have his answer by mid-September. Recordings of the hearing can be found here.

Neighborhood Groups Sue to Force Environmental Review of Mega Warehouse Project in South Tacoma 5/5/23

350 Tacoma and the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a legal appeal to the Tacoma Hearing Examiner to force the City of Tacoma to take a comprehensive look at the environmental harms of permitting one of the largest warehouse complexes in the world in a South Tacoma neighborhood.  See the Notice of Appeal and Press Release for more details. 

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Determination of Mitigated Non-Significance 4/21/23

Peter Huffman, as Director of the Planning and Development Services Department, has ruled that the 2.5 million square foot warehouse can go ahead without an Environmental Impact Statement. The official language, Mitigated Determination of Non-significance, means that any and all environmental impacts have been predetermined by the City PDS as being entirely insignificant with appropriate mitigation. No environmental impact statement will be conducted, and no health impact assessment is planned. The community has until 5/5/23 to appeal.

While acknowledging the area is surrounded by “Communities of Focus,” with residents suffering from “reduced life expectancy, chronic health conditions and other indicators of poor health,” Director Huffman did not even raise the issue of assessing the health impact on residents. Indeed, he omitted evidence and recommendations calling for an intermediate, intensive Health Impact Assessment from the US EPA Region 10, Washington State Department of Ecology, Department of Health, and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The Director takes the Heavy Industry zoning as evidence that this mega construction is appropriate. Without any acknowledgement of the racial history that created this zoning in South Tacoma deliberately, nor with any sense that this will deepen health inequities and environmental injustice.

Within the permit decision, Director Huffman lists the detailed requirements from the Tacoma City Comprehensive Plan to protect health of Tacomans and use best science, and yet largely ignores the very information he lists (“limit negative impacts on air quality, reduce carbon emissions; assess and review the best available science for managing critical areas; assess risks and potential impacts on the community due to climate change, with regard to social equity; ensure that plans and investments are consistent with and advance efforts to improve air quality and reduce exposure to air toxins, and urban heat island effects. Consider air quality related health impacts on all Tacomans). Similarly the mere 9% tree canopy coverage in the area is mentioned without any information about how to get it to 30% by 2030.

Read more about the Environmental Impact Statement process, what Bridge Industrial have submitted, and responses by the City of Tacoma here.

In the meantime, the City is moving ahead with permits related to the project, such as planning to support BI in its petition for the City to give up its right of way on the property (“street vacation”). We are awaiting the ruling from the City Council on vacating a right-of-way on South Madison St (an actual gravel road connecting to the biodiversity corridor) and part of South 50th St that has never been extended onto the property. While the Hearing Examiner recommended that the city approve the vacation due to his limited legal scope, he also said that “RCW 35.79.010 gives the legislative authority [of a municipality] — the city council – sole discretion as to whether a petition to vacate shall be granted or denied.” Site preparation may already have begun, and this is problematic because of the Superfund materials underneath the topsoil. 

Permit materials appear to rely on inaccurate or outdated reference materials: 

In terms of traffic impact, the estimate for 5000 additional daily trips is based on the “traditional warehouse”  or “industrial park” category, where goods are stored, with only 1000 daily additional trucks, “on weekdays.” However, if it is used as a “high cube distribution center,” it could produce 10,000 to 12,000 new vehicle trips a day, seven days a week.

In terms of air quality effect, BI materials assert that the air in the area is so bad that the influence of 5,000 new vehicle trips will not be measurable. By combining the whole county and the entire city, BI can wash out and ignore serious health effects of the immediately surrounding area. BI has also not included any pollution from the construction since it will be “temporary.”

With reference to the effect on the aquifer, BI has concluded no infiltration is necessary, but that appears to be based on counting the entire aquifer rather than focusing on the upper aquifer on which city water wells depend.

The assessment of the Biodiversity Critical Area in the wetlands doesn’t appear to use most recent scientific best practice, while the classification of the on-site stream does not account for its connection to Flett Creek, with salmon (connecting to Chambers Creek and Chambers Bay in Puget Sound/Salish Sea).

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