The lawsuit by Washington, Oregon and 29 Native tribes against the terrible decision to move Seattle’s National Archives is a righteous effort to thwart a terrible plan to haul away highly valued Northwest history.
The stakes are high. If the Public Buildings Reform Board’s proposal to bundle the 10-acre Sand Point site with 11 other federal properties for hasty sale goes through, historical treasures of the Northwest will be spirited away to California and Missouri. The archives’ million boxes of records including tribal treaties drafts, historical court records and land maps are an invaluable resource for Northwest researchers.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is right to escalate his attempts to stop the sale. Not only has the transaction been ginned up in obscurity — and failed to meet notification requirements, Ferguson alleges — but it is a bad idea that may even be expressly illegal.
As the lawsuit points out, the federal law that in 2016 created this process to sell off government real estate specifically exempted from consideration “Properties used in connection with Federal programs for agricultural, recreational, or conservation purposes, including research in connection with the programs.”
The archives exists to serve a research purpose, undeniably. And as the lawsuit points out, that includes maps of our region’s history that inform projects from recreational trails to resources to conserve.
The idea that this region’s needs for historical records — virtually all of which are unavailable digitally — can be adequately served by dispersing the archived materials to distant states is nonsensical. Selling the Seattle real estate would be a windfall for the buyer who develops it and an insignificant help for the national debt. The scant public input taken into consideration compounds the injury. A government that shows this little respect for its citizenry has forgotten who it serves — or is indifferent to how it does so. As Ferguson said of the PRBB, “They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t give a damn.”
The U.S. District Court judge should grant the requested injunction to halt the sales effort. This lawsuit can make an unnecessary travesty go away before the bureaucratic machinery to advance the sale progresses. The federal government must also take care of its public holdings, not delay maintenance to the degree that a disservice like this can even be contemplated. When this sale is stopped, the archives’ anticipated $4.8 million in projected maintenance costs must be addressed.
This public treasure should continue to serve generations of Pacific Northwesterners from close by.