Transparency was on the agenda Monday, but the Port of Tacoma heard about a lot more from Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello.
The meeting of two port commissioners, two Tacoma city councilmen and Mayor Marilyn Strickland was called to discuss how the port and city can do a better job of telling the public about large projects.
Mello instead advocated for a broad shift in land use policy for Tacoma’s Tideflats.
He called Port Commission President Connie Bacon’s proposal to give the public more opportunity to weigh in on fossil fuel projects or those involving other natural resources “putting lipstick on a pig.” Instead, he said, any high-impact project — especially ones that call for fossil fuel exports such the controversial methanol plant proposal aborted earlier this year — should be “off the table.”
“We can have the best communication and outreach plan,” Mello said. “They don’t want to keep coming to public meetings to fight dirty thing after dirty thing.”
The port should chase “clean, high-paying jobs” with a look to the future instead of Tacoma’s polluted past, Mello said..
Port Commissioner Dick Marzano said he would need more details about what kind of constraints the city would propose.
So far the port has refused all overtures to site a coal export terminal, Marzano noted, but “it doesn’t mean we won’t.”
City Councilman Robert Thoms said the city needs to consider how to take advantage of a new dynamic in which people move to communities where they want to live and the jobs follow them. He previously has suggested that the failed methanol project was an impetus to reconsider what kind of industry the community wants at the port.
“We need to create the community that people want to be in, that they feel safe in,” Thoms said. “I think we can create jobs and have a great quality of life at the same time.”
After the meeting, Bacon said she would have to talk to the full commission before taking a position on rezoning land or participating in a city planning process. Her proposal to improve public outreach is a direct response to outcry about the methanol plant proposal that materialized long after the port had signed a lease with the developer.
Marzano said community members felt left in the dark.
“It was a major misstep on our part thinking this was done properly,” Marzano told the room Monday.
Currently the Port Commission can approve major leases after just one meeting. For projects having to do with natural resources or fossil fuels, Bacon’s proposal calls for at least three public meetings, one of which would be a study session during which the port would release details about the project. The public would learn about financial impacts, a project timeline, environmental issues, utility requirements, project safety and facility operations.
Bacon said she’s heard the public’s demand for more notice of big projects.
“You want more honesty, more understanding of what the port is considering — and you want to hear before it’s too late,” Bacon said.