Maybe it’ll all end in one big disappointment for the historians, tribes and just plain fans of the National Archives in Seattle.
Maybe by summer it’ll all be a done deal and the 10-acre Sand Point site that was declared surplus by the feds will be sold to developers as planned.
But, as shown by a letter sent Wednesday to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and signed by congressional delegations from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, bit by bit, opponents to the sale keep pressing.
It begins by citing the Feb. 12 decision by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the sale.
The letter sent Wednesday was to Rob Fairweather, acting director for OMB, an agency that has been called “the most powerful office in Washington that you’ve never heard of.” It administers the federal budget which in fiscal 2020 was set at $4.75 trillion.
The letter asks that Fairweather “take immediate action to reverse OMB’s prior approval of the sale.”
Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and the six senators from the other states, plus 17 representatives called the sale “legally flawed” and “in violation” of federal policies to consult the tribes.
The only Washington state representative who didn’t sign the letter was Dan Newhouse, the Republican whose 4th District includes Yakima and the Tri-Cities.
His office emailed a statement on Thursday that the National Archives and Records Administration “should prioritize making their collection available online and to be more responsive to the requests they receive rather than spending $50 million to refurbish a wasteful, under-utilized building.”
On Wednesday, an OMB spokesperson emailed The Seattle Times, “Tribal consultation is a priority for this administration, and we have reached out to the affected tribes to hear from them directly.”
The archives here hold 800,000 cubic feet of archival records that tell the story of the Pacific Northwest.
It’s now been over 13 months in a campaign that’s included a virtual hearing attended by over 300 people and a lawsuit by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and 29 tribes and various groups.
The federal government plans to move records from here to facilities in Kansas City, Missouri (1,840 miles away), and Riverside, California (1,200 miles away).
Set to be moved are the histories of 272 federally recognized tribes in this region, as well as all federal records generated in the Pacific Northwest, including military, land, court, tax and census documents. The collection also includes more than 50,000 original files related to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
At the court hearing, Coughenour said the feds could have avoided a “public relations disaster” if they had “displayed some sensitivity” to how the closure affected the Northwest.
He also wondered if anybody on the five-person Public Buildings Reform Board that decided to close the archives here was from the Pacific Northwest.
That’s the little-known entity that recommended the archives be shuttered in Seattle. The board was created in 2016 to find what it deems excess federal property.
When the announcement to close the facility was made, board member Angela Styles, a government contracts lawyer based in Washington, D.C., said the board was “not required by statute to seek public input first.”
Asked about the Wednesday letter by the congressional delegation, Yakama Nation Chairman Delano Saluskin said, “They need to cancel that little board. Disband that whole thing.”