Sunday, October 23, 2016 This Week's Paper

Our view: Who decides the future of Tacoma?

Earlier this year, Northwest Innovation Works cancelled its plans to build what would have been the world’s largest natural gas to methanol plant on the tideflats. The Chinese-backed venture would have shipped the methanol to China to use in the production of plastic products. The plan died under its own weight when hundreds – if not thousands – of people raised concerns about the safety of the planned plant during the early stages of its environmental review.
That outcry prompted city and Port of Tacoma leaders to promise talks about future tenants of industrial lands on the tideflats. They then formed a committee of port commissioners and council members to widen their official lines of communication of such matters. The port also vowed to expand its public notification process about potentially controversial developments. 
But what about the public’s thoughts on the matter?
Sure, the City of Tacoma is pondering an extensive subarea plan process that would put zoning, traffic and safety issues on the tideflats under a microscope. The port is also kicking off a process to change its strategic plan and goals under its new management structure born by the creation of the Northwest Seaport Alliance that folds many of the business operations in Tacoma and Seattle into the jointly managed agency.
Both are worthwhile efforts. But here’s the problem: It would seem prudent to simply have a town hall style meeting sooner rather than later about the complex issues surrounding the future of Tacoma’s waterfront so that everyone understands the potentially competing visions of Tacoma’s natural environment that also happens to be an economic engine for the region.
A plan for a methanol plant died because critics rallied opposition from groups and neighboring cities, and they are doing similar work to fight plans for Puget Sound Energy to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. There will be other proposals for the tideflats that will face similar opposition, time and again, if decisions about the waterfront’s future are made without robust debate before leases are signed and cranes fire up for construction.
Critics of these mega projects aren’t against growth or job creation. They are against marginal growth at the risk of disasters and environmental degradation. But more importantly, they want to be heard and considered. They deserve that. We deserve that.