City tries to force formal ferry yard review

Saying all aspects of the ferry maintennance yard project should be considered together, the city this week asked for public comment to guide a formal environmental study – even before it’s been given the authority to do so.

The city issued a “determination of environmental significance” on the $40 million Washington State Ferries project, in essence usurping WSF’s status as the lead agency for environmental review.

The move came three weeks after the city formally petitioned the state Department of Ecology to take over environmental review, and before a decision on that petition has been rendered.

“I think taking the lead agency status is a pretty big endeavor. It’s not something we had planned on doing,” city Administrator Mary Jo Brigg said. “We’re trying to figure out the resources to do and do it well, if that’s the determination of Ecology.”

City planner Joshua Machen said the move was warranted, given public concern over the facility.

“This project has already raised a lot of eyebrows,” Machen said. “There’s been talk in the past about whether it should even be here. There are a number of issues to look at and we want to make sure all the environmental concerns are addressed adequately.”

Last month, WSF issued a “determination of non-significance” for portions of the project under which no formal environmental study would be required, a decision with which the city disagreed.

In issuing its own determination, the city said the project would have probable environmental impacts, from noise, traffic or other issues.

A public meeting now is set for 6 p.m. May 16 at City Hall, to discuss a formal environmental review that ferry officials fear would delay the project.

WSF spokesperson Joy Goldenberg said the city’s move was premature.

“For right now, we’re still the lead agency,” Goldenberg said. “We stand by our initial decision to forgo the statement and are surprised the city is taking comment before they’ve assumed the lead role. That’s a pretty big assumption on their part.”

The proposed project, which includes dock repairs, new buildings, expanded parking and revamped facilities, is set to be completed in stages from August 2006 to December 2009.

Because WSF considers portions of the overhaul to be maintenance and improvement rather than new construction, they decided against a formal environmental impact statement.

“We don’t feel it’s warranted,” Goldenberg said. “This project in our minds is a real preservation effort to make the facility viable for the next 30 years. It’s not a public-use facility.”

Machen said polluting Eagle Harbor, which is already listed for contaminants, was a primary concern. Goldenberg countered that in-water work at the facility has already been restricted in order to accommodate migrating fish.

The two sides will meet on Monday to try and reach a resolution, but if they don’t, it will come down to the Department of Ecology’s decision on whether the city or WSF will guide any environmental review.

“We’re just waiting now,” said Machen. “We’ll know more in the next couple of weeks, but we’re still charging forward and flushing out all the real concerns.”

-Staff writer Douglas Crist contributed to this report

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