About 200 people showed up Monday night for an open house about a liquefied natural gas plant planned for Tacoma’s Tideflats.
The event at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center was organized by Puget Sound Energy at the urging of members of the Tacoma City Council.
Outside, dozens of people opposed to the plant wore red, waved signs and chanted “Hey, no PSE, we don’t want your LNG!” Near them, a half dozen or so representatives from local trade unions and the Washington Building Trades Association held blue signs in bold print in support of the project: “Blue collar jobs for Tacoma,” they read.
Inside, people visited stations and spoke to Puget Sound Energy employees, economic development professionals, fire safety officials and engineers. The controversial plant has been opposed by RedLine Tacoma and other citizens groups for what they call insurmountable safety and environmental risks.
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The conversations seemed to stay mostly cordial: People wearing red “No LNG” vests spoke at length with PSE employees, though many said they came away with their minds unchanged.
“Natural gas is a win-win for them,” said James Edalgo, who works at the Port of Tacoma and said he worries about what would happen in a possible explosion at the plant. “It’s a manageable idea, but at the end of the day you’ve got to make sure something works, because we don’t need something that blows up, because I kind of work next to it.
“I have mixed feelings about it.”
About 30 minutes into the 90-minute open house, a group of protesters formed a circle and did a call-and-response chant, spelling out their reasons for opposing the project.
“The LNG plant’s a no-go,” they sang, with hands clasped, to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”
PSE planned the open house as part of a public-outreach campaign to curry favor for its $310 million Tideflats LNG project.
The ongoing blitz of online, broadcast and print advertisements, along with a live online presentation last week and a Dec. 1 teleconference, began in April, months after the window closed for public input into the city's environmental impact statement on the project.
PSE spokesman H. Grant Ringel said the company has spent $612,000 on public communications about the plant, at $68,000 a month. He said the public relations work is intended to correct “massive confusion” about the LNG project and a withdrawn proposal by another company to build the world's largest methanol plant at a nearby port site.
“PSE was widely criticized for not communicating with residents about the (LNG) project and failing to clear up the confusion,” Ringel wrote in an email.
Andy Wappler, vice president of customer operations and communications for Puget Sound Energy, said he was heartened that people showed up.
“I’m really glad people came inside and wanted to talk and to learn — I was concerned that some of the folks who were worried about the project might just stay on the sidewalk, but I’m really glad they came inside,” he said.
After visiting several stations and speaking with officials, some people said they still hadn’t made up their minds about whether the project will be safe, or whether it would be good for Tacoma. Some said they left with more questions than they had when they got to the open house.
“I came here for information so I could know something about the process,” said Julian Worrell, a Northeast Tacoma resident. “I need to go home and read up some more and try to make up my mind, for or against.”