Politics & Government

Ruston council could vote to work with Tacoma on Point Ruston permitting

The Ruston City Council is considering teaming up with Tacoma to streamline permitting at a $1.2 billion development straddling the Ruston-Tacoma city line.

The move came as a pleasant surprise Friday to Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax, Planning Director Peter Huffman, and Point Ruston legal representative Loren Cohen.

Such a collaboration, which would be outlined in a document called an interlocal agreement, could take weeks or months to negotiate if the Ruston council gives staff the go-ahead Tuesday. The agreement would outline how Tacoma and Ruston work together to review plans, permit buildings and inspect the developer’s work, Huffman said.

Cohen called the proposal “a step in the right direction.”

“I hope these conversations concerning permitting can occur as quickly as possible to expedite this project and make up for lost time,” Cohen said Friday afternoon.

The 97-acre Point Ruston development is atop a Superfund site contaminated with arsenic and lead. About half of it lies in Ruston and the other half in Tacoma. While the developer has built apartment buildings, condominiums and retail shops on the Tacoma side, it has made little progress in Ruston.

City of Ruston officials have said that Point Ruston wants to stray from the development plan it gave the city and is building without permits rather than following the process to update the plan. Cohen has said the existing development plan, which has been written into the city code, is flexible enough to allow the city to issue permits now.

The developers also have asserted they don’t need to apply for construction permits because a federal law allows them to build on Superfund sites without one.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the cleanup and capping of the contaminated soil, has said it is “very concerned” with the developer’s approach at the former Asarco copper smelter site.

City of Ruston leaders say they feel backed into a corner by the Legislature’s move to change annexation law. The bill as written would maintain Ruston’s veto over Point Ruston’s petition to annex all of the development to Tacoma, but Ruston council members said they feared a last-minute change will eliminate that veto power.

“We are under the sword of Damocles with the state Legislature,” Councilman Lyle Hardin said Friday. If the Legislature removes Ruston’s power to stop Point Ruston from becoming wholly part of Tacoma, “then we are set. We are done. The city will be in a lot of financial difficulty in a few years.”

Hardin called the decision to work with Tacoma a “major rearrangement” in how the city works with Point Ruston.

Reviewing plans for large developments takes time, and the city of Tacoma would have to be fairly compensated for that work, Huffman said.

“If we are doing inspections for them or technical reviews, we would want to cover our costs for that,” Huffman said.

Broadnax said an interlocal agreement is unlikely to address whether changes must be made in Ruston’s city code to allow the developer to obtain permits for construction that doesn’t match the original plan.