A state Court of Appeals judge will consider arguments today brought by the local longshore workers union that the city and county shouldn’t have entered into a deal to build a sports arena in the Sodo neighborhood before state environmental reviews were completed.
Attorneys for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 are asking the appeals court to invalidate a Memorandum of Understanding reached with investor Chris Hansen in October 2012, arguing it coerces government decision-makers to approve a Sodo site and limits consideration of alternate sites.
“There is no ‘Bring Back the Sonics’ exception to SEPA,” said Peter Goldman, attorney for the longshore workers, refering to the State Environmental Policy Act. Goldman argues that the agreement with Hansen triggered a series of steps, including acquiring an NBA team, designing a new arena and seeking building permits at the Sodo location that foreclose meaningful consideration of alternate locations that might have fewer environmental impacts.
“The question is how much can government agree to with a private developer before doing SEPA,” Goldman said. “The whole deal was designed to build momentum for an arena in Sodo.”
The longshore workers lost at the trial court in February when Superior Court Judge Douglass North ruled that the agreement with Hansen specified that it could not be finalized until a complete environmental assessment had been completed.
Union officials say they support the return of professional basketball and hockey, but not the proposed arena’s Sodo location, which is just a block from a major Port of Seattle shipping terminal. Longshore workers say their jobs and others in the maritime trades would be jeopardized by adding a third sports facility to the stadium district south of downtown.
Attorneys for Hansen, the city of Seattle and King County argue in their briefs to the appellate court that the agreement with Hansen does not bind the city or county to approve the arena or commit to funding until after the environmental reviews are completed.
Under the deal, the city and county would pay up to $200 million for a $490 million arena, with the bonds being repaid through rent and taxes generated at the facility.