METHANOL PROJECT AXED
The announcement in April that Northwest Innovation Works had pulled its plans to build what would have been the world’s largest natural gas to methanol plant on the tideflats foreshadowed things to come during the rest of 2016 and will most certainly continue into 2017 on other projects in the works.
Company officials stated at the time that mounting protests by Tacoma residents and resolutions of opposition from surrounding cities had nothing to do with the Chinese-backed venture from ending plans to build the $3.4 billion facility. But the hundreds of people attending any and all public discussions about the plant and voicing their environmental and safety concerns certainly didn’t help the company build support for the project.
NWIW officials cited that “regulatory uncertainty” caused them to end the process of developing what questions regarding the project’s impact an environmental review would have to answer. Community opposition to the plant then prompted environmental watchers to look at other projects and proposals on the tideflats, pitting business-boosters looking to bring jobs and economic activity to the region against volunteer “water warriors,” who want more protections for the area’s natural resources and more protections against industrial accidents.
Chief among those groups has been Redline Tacoma, a group of people opposed to Puget Sound Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility. The 8-million gallon facility would primarily serve as a fueling station for container ships that are facing stricter emission rules and LNG is a cleaner burning fuel than traditional diesel. Expect much more on this front in 2017.
SAVE TACOMA WATER
Born during the mounting opposition to the now-dead plans for a methanol plant on the tideflats that would have used an estimated 10 million gallons of water a day, the citizen-driven Save Tacoma Water group has been in and out of court for its efforts to put initiatives on the ballot that would require a public vote for projects that would use more than 1 million gallons of water a day.
The Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the Port of Tacoma first successfully sued to stop the signatures from being gathered and counted. Then Save Tacoma Water sued the city for failing to fully disclose the city’s legal billings about the water initiatives since attorneys with the city and port were coordinating a legal strategy against the initiatives while also greenlighting the signature-gathering effort to put the initiatives on future ballots.
The Attorney General stepped into the fray by claiming the legal bills should have been reported as campaign expenses. That suit has since been dismissed.
OFFICER REGINALD ‘JAKE’ GUTIERREZ GUNNED DOWN
Tacoma Police Officer Reginald "Jake" Gutierrez was memorialized on Dec. 9 at the Tacoma Dome, where thousands of concerned people and first responders from around the nation paid their respects to the officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty.
Donations to the Officer Jake Gutierrez Memorial Fund can be made at any Wells Fargo location, through Crime Stoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County or at the Tacoma Police Department.
Gutierrez, a 17-year veteran of the department, was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 30. He was 45 years old and left behind a fiancé and three children. Gutierrez was responding to a domestic violence call at a house along the 400 block of East 52nd Street. Bruce Randall Johnson II, 38, reportedly shot Gutierrez during the incident and then barricaded himself in the house while other officers rescued Gutierrez, who was rushed to Tacoma General Hospital for emergency surgery. He later died of his wounds. Johnson used his own children as human shields during an 11-hour standoff before a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy shot him while he passed in front of an upstairs window. Johnson’s two children, 6 and 8, were not injured and were removed from the house. Johnson has been described as a troubled man, who had just been fired from his job at a downtown barbershop and experiencing mounting family troubles.
Tacomans responded to Gutierrez’s shooting death with two candlelight vigils in the Eastside neighborhood the 45-year-old officer patrolled. Both vigils, one at the Tacoma Police Substation where he worked and another at nearby Sheridan Elementary, drew hundreds of mourners. More mourners then lined city streets the following morning to pay their respects when members of law enforcement agencies and fire departments motorcaded through the city to escort Gutierrez from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office to the funeral home.
MAJOR MAKEOVERS FOR TACOMA SCHOOLS
The buzz of the school bell might have marked the end of classes for thousands of students for the summer, but the tone was also the work whistle for construction crews around the district with a long roster of renovations and construction projects thanks to a $500 million bond voters approved in 2013.
Crews renovated or expanded six schools during the summer with work on another four schools starting after school began. Likely one of the most innovative projects that district crews swung hammers to complete is the 30,000-square-foot Environmental Learning Center at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, which will house the district’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) program through a partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma. The new facility is expected to open in late 2017. The nature-themed building will offer eight learning areas for SAMI students and community presentations. SAMI will be housed in portables at the former Camp 6 Logging Museum site along Five Mile Drive until then, a temporary move from the waterfront that was needed for construction of the stormwater treatment facility.
More detailed construction information is available at tacomapublicschools.org.
TACOMA’S HOUSING BOOM
The North End’s six-story, 140-unit apartment complex Proctor Station had neighbors worrying about traffic and parking and prompted one of the earliest signs of Tacoma’s now-booming housing market – and discussions of neighborhood density that such developments often bring.
Developers behind Proctor Station are moving forward with a nearby sibling development, Madison 25, and other multi-family developments have been started around Tacoma since then. The city is expected to be home to as many as 100,000 more residents by 2040, so higher buildings and denser, “urban living” developments will most certainly play into effort to shelter those new residents.
TACOMA HISTORY BUFFS CELEBRATE
Portland-based McMenamins is renovating the Elks Lodge into a boutique hotel and entertainment hub after the facility sat vacant and neglected for decades. The city also spent about $1 million to shore up Old City Hall to avoid further deterioration until the Elks Lodge work is finished, since McMenamins has an option to renovate and lease Old City Hall once the lodge hotel opens. The Elks Lodge is set to open in late 2017, so Old City Hall could follow in 2019 if those plans move forward.
Adding to the list of historic landmark buildings slated for renovations is the former hub of Tacoma’s business elite, which is slated to be brought back to its former grandeur. The mansion at 539 Broadway was built in 1889 to serve as the home of the Union Club, which was the social and business center for Tacoma’s men of industry and finance until the club dissolved in the 1980s. The 15,000-sqare-foot facility, which was later known as the University-Union Club after the two clubs merged in 1939, then served as a rental space for proms and weddings but income couldn’t keep up with the demand for repairs as the wood-framed structure aged and began showing signs of wear.
Eli and Amber Moreno bought the structure and have since set out to renovate the wood-framed building to house startup companies and “satellite office” workers with shared printer, fax, Internet access, coffee, office supplies and meeting spaces.
COUNTY PROSECUTOR’S WOES AND WINS
Love him, hate him or just don’t care about him, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist certainly has had his name in newspapers and broadcasts more than any other elected official in Pierce County in recent years.
Most of the allegations and legal complaints against the county’s top attorney fizzled out after claims were met with counter claims and mounting legal bills that taxpayers paid. Those allegations involve a complex and drawn-out legal fight that largely has ended after five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money spent in legal fees.
The claims have largely resolved themselves with wins in Lindquist’s column, at least so far. One notable exception is a judge’s ruling that Lindquist failed to disclose business-related text messages after a legal challenge. That text cost $325,000 in legal bills and opened the county to future fines.
Lindquist is currently priming for a reelection bid in 2018 with no challenger on the horizon, although there has been some chatter – including from members of Linquist’s own staff – about ways to mount an efforts so Lindquist doesn’t at least run unopposed like he did in 2014.
DESTINATION POINT DEFIANCE
New restrooms, a children’s playground and a second picnic shelter are among proposed changes for Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park.
Metro Parks aims to begin construction in September 2018 and complete the job by May 2019. To do it, Metro Parks has secured a $2.25 million grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. Other costs will be covered as part of the $198 million capital improvement bond approved by Metro Parks voters in 2014.
The Owen Beach improvement project is part of the Destination Point Defiance initiative, which also includes other waterfront improvements and the Pacific Seas Aquarium in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium that are also undergoing massive renovations that will further make Point Defiance Park a top tourism and recreation destination.
Metro Parks has more than $155 million for capital projects throughout the district over the next two years. Construction of the Eastside Community Center is to begin in 2017 on the campus of Tacoma’s First Creek Middle School, and the facility is scheduled to open in 2018. The opening of the new aquarium at Point Defiance is also planned in 2018. In addition to the those projects, the parks budget provides money for a new peninsula park adjacent to the Tacoma Yacht Club and for Wilson Way, the new bicycle-pedestrian bridge connecting Point Defiance Park and Ruston Way. Construction of the bridge began in November.
SOUTH SOUND 911
South Sound 911 is moving forward with the construction of a facility at the 5.34-acre site of the old Puget Sound Hospital in Tacoma’s Eastside.
The agency was created as a result of a vote in 2011 that increased sales taxes by one tenth of one percent to support public safety, which included the consolidation of emergency dispatch and records centers around the county.
GETTING THE LEAD OUT
The trickle down effects of Tacoma Water finding lead in its water system in April prompted Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma to test their facilities and it rippled to surrounding school districts as well.
Testing water systems at public schools is voluntary in Washington. The state Environmental Protection Agency set the lead-contamination threshold at 20 parts per billion, but Tacoma Schools has set a more stringent standard of 15 parts per billion.
Initial testing of water that had sat in pipes for more than eight hours at select Tacoma schools showed that specific faucets and water fountains at 13 schools had high levels of lead, but follow-up tests of running water cleared the systems at Larchmont, Manitou Park and Reed elementary schools. The state recommendation for lead testing calls for this two-step test with the first test providing the “worst case” sample and the second showing results that mirror actual use. Fixtures that tested above the limit were replaced or closed until repairs were made. Classrooms with closed faucets were provided bottled water until the fountains were repaired and retested.
The rash of water testing started after Tacoma Water conducted tests of its system in the spring and found that some 1,700 homes and businesses potentially have lead levels above the state limit. The cause of the lead has since been linked to “gooseneck” connections between the main water lines and the individual water customers. Goosenecks were installed in the early to mid-1900s, before health officials understood the effects of lead poisoning.