For a while, it looked as if Olympia would house the main offices of the Puget Sound Partnership, the new state agency charged with cleaning up Puget Sound.
Some thought it should be in Seattle.
But Tacoma prevailed, in part because of plenty of “advocating,” as Gov. Chris Gregoire put it, from a variety of influential people, including University of Washington President Mark Emmert, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, and “little-known” Congressman Norm Dicks.
Gregoire made it official Thursday, announcing that Tacoma’s planned Urban Waters marine research center will contain the offices of the Puget Sound Partnership. Some 30 or more people could eventually join City of Tacoma staff and University of Washington Tacoma researchers at the building on the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway. The building is expected to be completed by June 2009.
Gregoire’s audience in a ninth-floor conference room at Tacoma City Hall laughed at her characterization of Dicks, the powerful U.S. Representative from Belfair, as “little known,” and Tacoma’s lobbying efforts as “advocating.” But for many in the room, the announcement was the culmination of months or years of work.
The idea for Urban Waters grew out of a failed attempt to build a downtown aquarium to draw tourists, and evolved into the concept of a marine research lab aimed at finding new ways to clean up polluted urban waterways. “This is a great day for the people of this community and a great day for Puget Sound,” Gregoire said.
Gregoire emphasized the need for science to drive the cleanup of Puget Sound, a body of water that she said looks beautiful on the surface but is actually sick and dying in places. Previous attempts at cleaning up the Sound, and efforts to clean other polluted bodies of water around the country, haven’t fully succeeded in part because they didn’t rely on good science, she said.
“Our goal is simple,” Gregoire said. “By 2020: fishable, swimable, digable.” Locating the Puget Sound Partnership in the same building as UWT researchers, she said, will help achieve the goal.
Others speakers included Bill Ruckelshaus, chairman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, UWT Chancellor Patricia Spakes, and David Dicks, the executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership and son of Norm Dicks.
Locating the Puget Sound Partnership in Tacoma, in the middle of a large population center, makes an important statement about the responsibility that people bear for the sound’s pollution, and the human intelligence that will be required to clean it up, Ruckelshaus said.
Spakes said it makes sense to locate the state agency at Urban Waters, in the same building as university researchers.
“This is going to give Tacoma and this region a global, competitive edge,” Spakes said.
Professor Joel Baker, the first Port of Tacoma chairman, is expected to start in Tacoma in January. He will conduct research and teach classes at UWT and serve as science adviser for Urban Waters.
Dicks said the partnership between the various groups at Urban Waters mirrors the approach of the Puget Sound Partnership. Prior to the Puget Sound Partnership, the state was “on a path to nowhere” with regard to Puget Sound water quality, Dicks said. Now, he said, “we can win.”
It’s unclear where the state agency employees will work during construction of the Urban Waters building, Dicks said. A small number of people may move into interim offices in Tacoma, but officials don’t necessarily want to move everyone twice, he said. The Puget Sound Partnership employs 15 people now and is authorized for up to 38, Dicks said. Some people will remain in Olympia, and Bellingham will likely have a small office, too, he said.
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542