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July 16, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Influential lawyer says arena deal breaks environmental law

Peter Goldman, environmental lawyer
Credit: Seattle Times

The sports arena debate just got more uncomfortable for some local politicians.

Peter Goldman, environmental lawyer and major campaign contributor ($1 million donor to liberal state and local candidates and causes in the last decade), contends the arena proposal violates state law.

In a letter sent Friday, Goldman told top Seattle and King County officials they will violate the State Environmental Policy Act, SEPA, by signing an agreement — or memorandum of understanding — with arena investors before conducting a formal analysis of the arena’s potential impacts.

Known for his tenacity in running the Washington Forest Law Center, Goldman says he is not representing anyone but himself in the matter.

He said city and county officials, likely relying on their lawyers’ advice, argue they can conduct an impact-analysis after they sign the agreement, or MOU. But Goldman maintains the proposal requires analysis now.

“SEPA is a stop, look and listen law,” Goldman, a Seattle resident, said in an interview. “Where in the MOU have they reserved the right to protect the public interest if you find something that requires mitigation, something that could be prevented?” The concern is that signing the MOU first creates an “irreversible momentum” for the deal.

Sung Yang, chief of staff for King County Executive Dow Constantine, said Goldman is wrong in his view that arena impacts might not be properly mitigated after the MOU is signed. “I disagree with that conclusion. But more importantly, our legal counsel disagrees,” Yang said.

“What I want to stress is that full SEPA analysis must be done and will be done,” he added. “That’s why the MOU is very explicitly conditioned on the successful completion of the SEPA process.”

Section 5 of the MOU clearly spells out what Yang is arguing, said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. That section says, the “Parties acknowledge that the Project is subject to review and potential mitigation under various laws, including the State Environmental Policy Act.”  And, Pickus says, another section of the MOU, 21b, notes that public financing of the arena is contingent on the environmental review being completed first.

Beyond the technical aspects, Goldman said the proposal has “gotten to me personally.” He has contributed to the campaigns of  Constantine, McGinn, King County Councilmembers Bob Ferguson, Joe McDermott, Larry Phillips, Julia Patterson and Pete von Reichbauer, and City Councilmembers Richard Conlin, Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden and Tim Burgess.

Goldman said he finds it “offensive” that the arena “has risen to the top of what we want to accomplish in this region.” He has been an advocate for parks, bike trails, transit and a new waterfront tunnel, among other projects. He said he suspects some stakeholders will file a SEPA-related lawsuit and he would strongly consider joining the suit.

Comments | More in Basketball arena, homepage, Politics Northwest, Seattle City Council | Topics: basketball arena, donor, dow constantine

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