SEATTLE — A King County judge Friday tossed out a lawsuit brought by longshore workers trying to stop construction of a new basketball and hockey arena in Sodo.
Stadium investor Chris Hansen reached a deal last year with the city of Seattle and King County, and signed a memorandum of understanding to move forward, pending environmental review.
The longshore workers sued in October, saying the agreement designates the Sodo site for a new arena before required state environmental assessment — including an examination of alternate sites — had been done.
They said the potential threat to freight mobility and loss of industrial lands jeopardized their jobs moving cargo in and out of Port of Seattle facilities within blocks of the arena site. Union officials said they welcomed the return of the Seattle Sonics, but not the Sodo location.
The judge said the agreement reserves the city and county’s decision about whether to build an arena and provide public financing until after a state environmental review is completed.
He rejected the longshore workers’ argument that the months of negotiations with Hansen created a snowball effect that ensured construction in Sodo before required enviroronmental reviews were completed.
The agreement calls for some public financing of an arena. The detailed agreement spells out a public contribution of up to $200 million for a half-billion-dollar facility and directs future tax revenues to repay the public construction bonds and fund transportation improvement.
“This is a big win in our work to bring the Sonics home to Seattle,” said Mayor Mike McGinn in a statement.
The agreement clearly requires a state environmental review and says that no final transaction documents or approval to begin construction will be given until elected officials have a chance to review the environmental impacts.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. “We have traffic issues in Sodo with or without an arena. Let’s look at what are the genuine transportation issues, and develop sensible solutions. It is well within our ability to figure out how to keep people and goods moving through this area.”
Peter Goldman, attorney for Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, argued that the months of secret negotiations with Hansen’s team before the agreement was finalized was a snowball effect favoring the Sodo arena site.
He argued that was a violation of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which requires a full analysis of potential environmental harm before government decides to go forward on a project.
Officials of the longshore workers’ union expressed disappointment in the ruling and said they would consult with their attorneys about whether to appeal.
The judge’s ruling was eagerly awaited in Sacramento, where Mayor Kevin Johnson is trying to put together an investment group and an arena plan to challenge Seattle’s. He has argued that a new arena for the Kings would be built on publicly-owned land and so would not be subject to legal challenges.