A two-week public hearing by the Pierce County hearing examiner over the construction of seven warehouses on the former Knutson Farms property in the Puyallup area concluded Thursday with no decision in sight.
The hearing, which hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux Jr. described as “very interesting,” revolved around a years-long disagreement between the city of Puyallup and Pierce County over environmental impacts of the Knutson Farms Industrial Project.
“Issues have arisen that I’ve never had arise in a hearing before,” Causseaux said without elaborating.
Puyallup attorney Joe Beck said he felt good about his case.
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“They rarely ever are as complicated as this issue,” Beck said. “(Puyallup is) trying to make sure we focus our resources on the things that matter to the citizens and (that are) in line with City Council direction.”
The hearing began on July 16 and focused on three issues:
A Shoreline Substantial Development Permit requested by the county for the construction of a 42-inch stormwater pipe and outfall to benefit the 2.6-million-square-foot project.
An environmental appeal by the city asking for the withdrawal of a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Mitigation Determination of Nonsignificance (MDNS) made by the county in April 2017.
An administrative appeal by the city regarding a Knutson Preliminary Short Plat approved by the county in May 2017.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians was originally involved in the hearing as an appellant with the city, raising the issue of untreated stormwater being funneled directly into the Puyallup River and impacting salmon. But the tribe pulled out after reaching a settlement with the developer of the site, who agreed to infiltrate the stormwater and perform enhanced treatment of water going into the river. Puyallup officials said they were notified days before the hearing began.
Puyallup officials have long claimed that the Knutson Farms Industrial Project would bring significant environmental impacts to the area. Located east of Shaw Road, west of the Puyallup River and north of East Pioneer, the project is 162 acres in size and inside an urban growth area under “Employment Center” zone classification.
Puyallup officials argue that the SEPA review done by Pierce County underestimates the project’s “significant adverse impact on the city’s transportation system,” according to a Pierce County staff report.
The city also alleges that the site is “environmentally sensitive” and the county’s review ignored impacts to the Puyallup River and riparian area and “starves wetlands in the floodplain.”
The county argued that the traffic impacts were assessed by experts and that while the site contains “environmentally sensitive” areas, “the buildings and associated structures will be located outside of the floodway” with the exception of a portion of the stormwater drainage system.
At closing statements, Peter Eglick, attorney for Puyallup, said that conducting an Environmental Impact Statement, which originally was not required, would have provided an opportunity for public comment.
“The city wants a public process. The process for this proposal has not been public. It has been conducted largely among experts behind closed doors, among applicant representatives behind closed doors, and the county behind closed doors with little public effort or involvement,” Eglick said.
“This (MDNS) should be remanded,” Eglick added. “It should be remanded for preparation of an EIS, it should be remanded so that solid information … is presented on the issues that we’ve raised.”
Deputy prosecutor Cort O’Connor maintained that the county made the correct decision in its environmental determination.
“The county recognizes that all development has impacts, but the county believes its extensive development regulations, conditions of approval … and MDNS will reduce the environmental impacts,” O’Connor said.
Members of the public didn’t get to comment until Thursday morning. There were five of them, and they all took issue with the warehouse project.
Two of those speakers were Puyallup residents David De Groot and Kathryn Sheldon. Sheldon, who worked as a freight forwarder—what she called a “travel agent for cargo” and shipments — for 31 years and is now retired, spoke out of compassion for the environment and her family history of farming.
“The best use for the community is to retain that property as farmland,” said Sheldon, who referenced a petition signed by more than 3,000 citizens requesting an EIS be completed on the property.
De Groot, now retired, used to work at Weyerhaeuser Distribution and the Pacific Bonsai Museum. He said the public will be the ones dealing with traffic, noise and other various quality of life issues brought on by the project.
“We should be talking about affordable farming,” he said. “We should be putting our food sources close to us.”
The realistic outcome De Groot said he would like to see is a scaled-down version of the project that would have fewer impacts and more opportunities for truck access in and out of the property.
Causseaux’s decision will be announced as early as October, by the end of the year at the latest.
In October 2017, a Thurston County judge ruled that Pierce County has jurisdiction of the warehouse complex project. That decision is currently being appealed by the city.