Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland politely lashed out late Tuesday at criticism the City Council has received regarding its neutral stance on a proposal to build the world’s largest methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma.
In remarks at the end of a City Council meeting, Strickland said she and her colleagues must maintain impartial positions because city staff members are charged with carrying out an environmental study on the proposal.
If elected officials weigh in, she said, that process could be compromised and challenged in court.
“This body’s job is not to take a position and say, ‘I forbid you to do this,’ ” she said. “Our job is to make sure we do something that has integrity and is neutral.”
Critics of the methanol proposal carried by a Chinese-backed company called Northwest Innovation Works have urged the council to block the plant. Some of the calls accelerated after the Federal Way City Council earlier this month passed a resolution opposing construction of the plant.
Strickland said the Tacoma council would not be taking a vote like the one in Federal Way.
“Because the city of Tacoma is in the position of doing the (environmental study), we are in the position of not advocating for or against something,” she said.
Other council members said they have been explaining to constituents why they have not taken public stances on the plant.
“We can answer questions, but the position we’re in (is) where we have to be careful about what we say to preserve the integrity of the process,” Councilman Marty Campbell said. “It’s a lot harder to sit back and be quiet.”
Northwest Innovation Works last week announced it had asked the city to “pause” the project’s environmental review for several months. A company official said it was surprised by the “tone and substance” of the opposition it encountered in Tacoma.
Strickland said the pause means city staff members no longer are processing the study. Another public comment period would begin if Northwest Innovation Works asks to restart work on its existing proposal or if it submits a different one.
Public comments the city received on the original proposal will carry over to the next version if the company decides to move forward, Strickland said.
Several of Strickland’s colleagues echoed her remarks, saying they felt their responsibility centered on asking tough questions about the plant rather than coming down for or against it.
“The courageous conversation is to not say anything so we preserve the integrity of the process,” Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said.