A Tacoma advocacy group is taking a new tack on using the ballot to block construction of the world’s largest methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma.
Save Tacoma Water this week plans to begin gathering signatures for an initiative that would amend the city charter to require businesses to win voter approval if they want to acquire rights to large amounts of fresh water from Tacoma Public Utilities.
The initiative’s threshold is 1 million gallons of water a day; the proposed methanol plant would use about 10.4 million gallons a day.
If the measure passes, Northwest Innovation Works, the Chinese government-backed company behind the methanol proposal, presumably would have to sell voters on its plan before beginning construction.
“Basically any large industrial user that uses just ungodly amounts of water really needs to justify that to the public and obtain the public’s consent,” said Michael Lafreniere, a spokesman for Save Tacoma Water.
The proposal is similar to a now-aborted initiative the group filed last month with the city clerk. The biggest difference: The new measure would write the voter-approval requirement for large water uses into the city charter, rather than city law. The City Council can undo city code changes done by initiative after two years.
Any large industrial user that uses just ungodly amounts of water really needs to justify that to the public.
Michael Lafreniere of Save Tacoma Water
“A city charter amendment, any future change to that, that would require another vote of the people,” Lafreniere said. “The City Council just can’t do it by its own.”
The latest version requires any company that wants to use large amounts of city water to foot the bill for a citywide election on its proposal.
Save Tacoma Water must collect 5,559 signatures for the proposal to make the November ballot, according to the Tacoma city clerk’s office.
Its supporters are shooting for closer to 9,000 in case some signatures are challenged. They are due by late July or early August to give Pierce County time to check signatures and advance the initiative.
The initiative likely will face opposition from Pierce County business groups who are concerned that the proposed charter amendment would discourage companies from opening new industries here.
What this could mean is a blanket approach that really shuts down business in Tacoma and Pierce County.
Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce President Tom Pierson
“We would certainly not be quiet if there was a proposal to have a public vote on whether a company can or cannot use a legal public utility,” said Bruce Kendall, president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma and Pierce County. “It raises a question of how open for business is Tacoma?”
The board last month took a neutral stance on the proposed methanol plant, passing a resolution that asks for a thorough and fair environmental study on the project.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce also has concerns about the initiative.
“What this could mean is a blanket approach that really shuts down business in Tacoma and Pierce County.” said Chamber President Tom Pierson. “I would hope that’s not anybody’s intent, but we have to ask, ‘What’s next?’”
Northwest Innovation Works last month asked the city of Tacoma to pause environmental review of the methanol plant proposal because of intense opposition the plan has generated.