After years of protest, moratoriums and delays, King County has granted approval for a proposed asphalt plant to be built in Renton on the banks of the Cedar River.
The permitting division of the county’s Department of Local Services ruled Thursday that the long-planned project, which has been fiercely opposed by neighbors and environmental groups, “does not pose a probable significant adverse impact to the environment,” as long as the company takes certain mitigation measures
The decision comes six years after Lakeside Industries bought the 25-acre parcel on Highway 169. It comes nearly four years after Lakeside, which has a dozen asphalt plants in Western Washington, first applied to build a new plant on the site.
The county also ruled that a formal environmental impact statement — which had been requested by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, among others — was not necessary for the project to move forward.
The proposed site sits about 150 feet from the Cedar River, separated by a five-lane highway and a bike path.
The river flows wide and gentle, the result of previous county-led remediation efforts to ease flood risks and improve fish habitat.
It’s also only about 5 miles from Interstate 405. In a region that continues to grow, asphalt — to build roads, to fix roads, to pave — needs to be made somewhere, and not too far away, because it has to stay hot in transit.
Lakeside plans to build on about 6.5 acres of the 25-acre site (down from a previous proposal to build on 9 acres) and says it will restore 4 acres of “degraded wetland and stream buffers.”
The site, which has a long history, was rezoned in 2008, in a little-noticed amendment to a massive piece of mandatory legislation. It was shifted from rural, with only one home allowed every 5 acres, to industrial.
Lakeside bought the site in 2016 for $9.5 million, five times its assessed value.
County Executive Dow Constantine, who was on the Metropolitan King County Council when the zoning change passed, was the sole council member to vote against it. But in his current role, he’s said that although he opposes the project, it’s his duty to enforce the laws of the county without meddling in the permitting decision.
Constantine declined to comment Thursday.
Neighbors and environmental groups have long expressed concerns about potential leaks from the asphalt plant, noise pollution, light pollution, increased truck traffic and the effect on salmon recovery.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who has opposed the asphalt plant despite voting for the zoning change in 2008, said he was “greatly troubled” by the decision to approve the permit.
“Siting an asphalt plant so close to the Cedar River — an environmentally sensitive location that is home to critical salmon habitat in addition to being a drinking water source for 1.4 million people in our region — presents an unwarranted risk of contamination and overly burdens rural communities with pollution, traffic, and other known impacts,” Dunn said in a prepared statement. “This is shockingly poor land use policy that, I fear, will have harmful ramifications for generations to come.”
Karen Deal, Lakeside’s environmental and land use director, said they were pleased to be able to move forward with the plant.
“We look forward to working with our new neighbors in the area, providing many direct and indirect skilled, family-wage jobs and revenue, and enabling Lakeside Industries and our team members to make positive impacts on a wide range of organizations and institutions,” Deal said in a prepared statement.
A traffic study found that the plant will require 460 truck trips each weekday. Lakeside points out that the landscaping business that previously occupied the site also required truck trips, so it would be an increase of 295 trips a day. The project would involve adding acceleration and deceleration lanes to Highway 169 at the site.
The county has spent millions of dollars restoring this stretch of river, adding and removing levees, trying to entice native threatened Chinook salmon to return to spawn.
In 2017, the County Council passed a moratorium that barred development of the site, but it expired in 2018 and a push to renew it went nowhere.
As conditions of approving the permit, the county stipulated several mitigation measures: all trucks leaving the site must be covered, emissions collection to minimize odors, contaminated soils must be replaced with clean soil prior to construction and there must be sound barriers to reduce noise.
Lakeside’s proposals to restore buffers for wetlands and streams on and near the site are “far beyond Code requirements,” the county wrote.