Point Ruston development files claims totaling more than $150 million against Ruston

Pointing to what it says is the town of Ruston’s “environmental malfeasance,” the developer of a $1 billion mixed-use development that straddles the Ruston-Tacoma city boundaries has filed claims seeking more than $150 million from the city near Point Defiance Park.

Point Ruston LLC alleges the city of fewer than 1,000 residents has hindered the development’s efforts to clean up the development site and has continued to contaminate the site because of unenforced city environmental safeguards. Point Ruston is being built on the site of the former Asarco copper smelter.

Before its closure in the early ’80s, the smelter processed high-arsenic ore into copper and other metals. The developers say they have spent millions of dollars to clean up the former smelter Superfund site to make it safe for redevelopment. Traces of arsenic and metals were broadcast over a large area in Tacoma and South King County as emissions from the smelter’s 500-foot-tall smokestack settled to the ground.

Ruston city officials, including the city clerk, city attorney and mayor, did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking their comments on Point Ruston’s claims Friday.

The claims, filed Thursday, “point to a history of the city of Ruston’s government’s environmental malfeasance at the site — including that the city of Ruston has hindered the cleanup and caused the further spread of contaminants.”

Loren Cohen, Point Ruston’s legal adviser, said the developer and the city have been in talks for nearly a year to settle their differences over how the development should proceed without reaching a resolution. Cohen contends the developer, led by his father, Mike, has repeatedly proposed submitting the issue to a dispute resolution process, but that Ruston has not reacted to that proposal.

The developer moved a planned multiplex cinema from the Ruston side of the site to the Tacoma side of the property to ensure that the cinema is complete by the May 1 deadline specified by the theater operator.

The development eventually plans to become the home for more than 3,000 residents in condominiums, apartments and single-family homes. Plans include construction of a nine-screen multiplex, a 175-room Silver Cloud Hotel, several large parking structures, a 25,000-square-foot organic grocery and numerous smaller restaurants, retailers and offices.

Mike Cohen, managing partner for the development, said Point Ruston has spent millions of dollars removing and capping contaminated soils, dredging sediment along Commencement Bay, installing new utilities and roads, and constructing a waterfront pedestrian pathway connecting Ruston Way with Point Defiance Park.

Loren Cohen alleged Ruston has adopted environmental safeguards for the city but doesn’t enforce those standards causing contaminated windborne soils disturbed by construction activities to settle on the development. Waste water and rain water from the town is flowing through a pipe beneath the development where that storm water leaks into the soil and recontaminates the bay near the outfall, he said.

The claims contend that the former Ruston Way tunnel beneath part of the development was to be sealed up by the city (the city owns the tunnel), but the city has yet to take action to do that despite a legislative appropriation to help pay the costs of that sealing. Point Ruston has rerouted Ruston Way away from the former tunnel.

The developer is asking Ruston to pay the costs it has incurred already and may incur in the future to clean up the new contamination.

If the city fails to respond to the developer’s claims or denies them, Loren Cohen said Point Ruston is prepared to file suit against the city in Pierce County Superior Court.