Puyallup tribe asks court to halt permits for Tacoma gas plant

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians wants permits issued for a liquified natural gas plant on the Tacoma Tideflats to be yanked, saying the environmental plan for the $275 million facility on the Hylebos Waterway is deficient.

A lawyer for the tribe filed suit in Pierce County Superior Court last week asking that demolition permits issued by the city of Tacoma be rescinded and that the city be ordered to “correct errors” in its final environmental impact statement for the plant before any more permits are issued.

Among other things, the tribe is worried that contaminated soils will be exposed by a proposed barge facility on the Hylebos, hurting fishing stocks and possibly impacting tribal marinas across the waterway from the plant, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on the tribe’s behalf by attorney Lisa A. Brautigam.

“The site is within a large and not yet cleaned up Superfund site. Extensive groundwater contamination exists within a plume that could be impacted by the construction,” the lawsuit states. “The (environmental plan) is not complete with regard to analysis of the impacts to groundwater or … how impacts to groundwater at the site from the proposal will potentially impact surrounding water quality of surface waters.”

Ray Lane is a spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, which would operate the facility on a 30-acre property near East 11th Street and Alexander Avenue.

“We respect the tribe and would like to have more conversations with them regarding their concerns,” Lane said Tuesday. “The Tacoma LNG project has been extensively evaluated by both the City of Tacoma and independent consultants as part of the environmental review process conducted under the State Environmental Policy Act. PSE is confident that the city’s rigorous work in reviewing the project satisfies all applicable requirements.”

The city issued permits for the plant in November. Puget Sound Energy has said it would like to open the facility by 2018.

Plans called for natural gas to arrive by pipeline, be cooled to subzero temperatures until it liquifies and then stored in an 8-million-gallon concrete and steel tank. Some of the liquified gas would be used as fuel for ships and the rest “reinjected” into the regional natural gas distribution system during peak times.

The tribe contends in its lawsuit that the city and utility did not do enough to study alternatives, including “developing a facility sized to meet only the water-dependent use of shipping.”

Lane said the facility would will help transportation companies “to switch from diesel to clean natural gas and lower their carbon emissions.”

“It would be unfortunate to delay their efforts to do that,” he said. “An appeal will also delay our ability to help the city reopen Fire Station 15.”

City spokeswoman Gwen Schuler said it is the city’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam