An attorney for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union says an environmental report omitted findings KeyArena could be renovated for the NBA and NHL.
With a decision expected Tuesday on whether to proceed with a vote to give up a street for a sports arena in the Sodo District, a union representing warehouse and dock workers has filed a submission claiming the process is “legally defective and inadequate.’’
Peter Goldman, a lawyer for International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19, wrote the Seattle City Council on Friday urging it to defer a decision on whether to vacate part of Occidental Avenue South for an arena proposed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen. The letter followed a Seattle Times story last Tuesday that showed city officials withheld information in May indicating KeyArena could potentially be renovated for NBA and NHL use.
A final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Sodo arena, Goldman wrote, “omits and blurs intentionally an inconvenient truth: that a remodeled KeyArena is physically and economically capable of serving as an alternative to the proposed Sodo arena for both NBA and NHL.’’
The letter urges the council to order a supplemental EIS to incorporate new findings KeyArena could be remodeled for an estimated $285 million, compared with the Sodo venue’s price tag of $490 million. Such a move would delay by several months the decision to vacate Occidental at a time Hansen faces a November 2017 deadline to finalize plans and obtain up to $200 million in public-bond funding.
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The Times story last week cited public records showing city officials and the main EIS author had discussed altering language within the EIS ahead of time to reflect new KeyArena findings made by the AECOM architectural firm. At the time, the EIS study and a draft report on AECOM’s findings were to be released by the city within days of each other last May.
By law, the EIS had to examine viable alternatives to the Sodo site to determine whether Hansen’s project best suits the city.
But instead of changing the EIS language, the city released the Sodo study on schedule May 7, and it stated a KeyArena remodel alternative was considered unfeasible. The conflicting AECOM report was subsequently delayed and then released to city-council members and the Mayor’s office over the summer without publicity.
The first media reports on the study didn’t surface until late September, after public-records requests.
Records show AECOM had given a preliminary presentation in November 2014 suggesting a KeyArena remodel could be done. Results of the presentation were shared with city-council members, the Mayor’s Office and the city’s Budget Office months before the EIS release, yet its conclusion a KeyArena remodel wasn’t feasible was allowed to stand.
Goldman’s letter states that by intentionally omitting a remodeled KeyArena as a viable alternative to the Sodo project, the city and EIS authors violated the intent of state law requiring such studies to be transparent and promote public participation in government.
“In its apparent zeal to ensure a rebuilt KeyArena did not emerge as a viable alternative to a Sodo arena,’’ Goldman wrote, the study “undermined citizens’ rights to a fair EIS process by omitting known facts and deploying misleading language that blurred the truth.’’
A five-member city-transportation subcommittee is expected to decide Tuesday whether to forward the street-removal decision to the full council for a vote. If the decision is ratified unanimously, a full council vote on whether to give up Occidental Avenue South to Hansen would occur April 28. But if the subcommittee splits its decision, a council vote would be put off until May 2.
Hansen said he needs the street vacated to obtain needed permits that would make his arena ready for construction. His supporters hope having his arena approved for construction would convince the NBA to expand here.
The league has said it likely won’t expand for two or three more years. Hansen needs an NBA team to trigger needed bond funding within his Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city and King County.
Sodo project supporters dismiss the KeyArena option. They say the AECOM report’s financial projections have not been thoroughly vetted and add the study contains no traffic projections for the surrounding area. They also contend nobody has stepped forward offering to pay for a KeyArena remodel.
Such traffic projections would be contained in the supplemental EIS being proposed by Goldman. He also wrote the council the argument no one has offered to renovate KeyArena “holds no water” because state law requires the EIS to analyze alternative sites.
“These requirements are not and cannot be conditioned on whether an investor stood by to invest in an alternative site,’’ he wrote. “Indeed, if that were the case, there would be no need to study or prepare an EIS at all, because only the Sodo location has an investor.’’
He said The Times story is new information and is evidence of “misrepresentation or lack of material disclosure’’ within the EIS that legally requires a supplemental study to be ordered.