The growing troubles facing the future of the Tacoma Tideflats is one that could have been avoided so many times over the years if only agreements, pledges and promises has been upheld. But they weren’t. So here we are. And they so far aren’t going to be followed this time either.
The largest battle in the works on the waterfront pits the City of Tacoma against the Port of Tacoma over who will sit at the table during the creation of a sub area plan for the largely industrialized waterfront that not only is an economic engine of the region, but also a toxic sandbox caused by the industrialization of that very same land over the passing decades of unchecked capitalism and poor decision making in the name of “progress.”
Tacoma City Council wants the Puyallup Tribe of Indians to share equally in the planning and forecasting of the Tideflat’s future, not only because most of the land falls within the tribe’s reservation boundaries but because the tribe is a rising economic engine in its own right. The 1989-1990 land claim settlement between the city, the Port and the Puyallups requires that any discussion about developments or decisions regarding the Tideflats must include meaningful consultation with the tribe. It remains the second largest land claim settlement in U. S. history and was meant to formalize a way for resolving development and planning issues of the critical areas for commerce and international trade.
Port of Tacoma now wants to relegate that “meaningful consultation” with the tribe to simply putting them among the ranks of business owners and commerce boosters with interests in growing the Tideflats, looking past the fact that the Puyallups have lived and worked along the waters since before Puget Sound itself formed. But regardless of that fact, any sub area plan drafted without significant participation by the tribe puts the whole process in legal limbo.
“The Puyallup Tribe of Indians have and continue to be great stewards of this land. Removing the Tribe’s co-equal role in the leadership, scoping, development and future implementation of the plan does not reflect the legally binding agreement,” a gathering of more than a dozen environmental groups outlined in an open letter to the City and Port as the two governments negotiate dueling proposals. The city wants the tribe at the table. The port commission wants them out, but wants to include the Pierce County Council, effectively stacking the deck for the pro-development camp at the expense of future generations that will be tasked with paying for cleanups the same way current taxpayers are paying for the environmental sins of past generations.
Maybe someday, governments will hold up their part of agreements, but so far, negotiations about who drives the discussion about the future of the Tideflats isn’t shaping up to be one of those times.