‘Save the Cedar River’ to file appeal this week against new asphalt plant in Renton

May 1, 2022, 9:14 AM | Updated: May 2, 2022, 6:31 am
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)...
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

The local organization ‘Save the Cedar River’ has promised to make a formal appeal against the construction of a new hot-mix asphalt plant in Renton. Its proposed location is off State Route 169, just 150 feet from Cedar River.

The organization’s co-chairman Bob Baker revealed they will file their appeal by May 4. The period for any organization to file an appeal ends on May 5.

Formed originally in 2018, ‘Save the Cedar River’ and has received support from the City of Renton, elected officials, businesses including the clothing company Patagonia, and more than 10,000 signatures throughout the four-year fight. Patagonia pledged the organization $20,000 for legal fees.

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“We pressured and pressured King County Council, and it fell on deaf ears,” Baker said. “Dunn did go and get a moratorium to stop the plant for six months, but no one else on the council would back him for a final moratorium.”

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, the representative of District 9 where the construction is taking place, previously called plans to build an asphalt plant near the Cedar River a “troubling decision” when the Department of Local Services Permitting Division approved the plans.

“I have long maintained that allowing an asphalt plan in a rural area, along SR-169 and just feet away from the Cedar River, is shockingly poor land use policy,” Dunn wrote to division director Jim Chan. “One that not only goes against King County’s central value of environmental preservation, but our state and county’s growth management policy that aims to preserve rural character.”

The asphalt plant has been in the process of construction since 2008 when councilmember Pete von Reichbauer pivoted from the original plan of using the land for more housing.

“In my opinion, a shady business transaction took place,” Baker said. “Jamie Durkan approached councilmember Reichbauer as a lobbyist, and soon after, Riechbauer went to the council and said, I would like to convert this property into industrial land.”

Jamie Durkan is the brother of former Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan.

All but one councilmember agreed to the new proposal, the one exception being King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“Executive Constantine has opposed this project every step of the way, going back to 2008 when then-Councilmember Constantine was the sole vote against the Comprehensive Plan amendment which allowed industrial development on this parcel,” Chase Gallagher wrote on Constantine’s behalf. “The County Council voted for the rezoning and did not extend its own moratorium in 2017. Constantine doesn’t have the ability to pick and choose which of the lawfully passed ordinances the departments implement.”

The property was sold to Lakeside Industries for $9.5 million in 2016 after originally being valued at $1.3 million back in 2008.

The establishment of an asphalt plant that close to a water source was devastating news for Renton residents. Covington residents cited reasons for not building a plant in their town that included noxious odors; bad air, pollution, and smog; nausea-inducing odor; coughing fits and asthma; difficulty breathing for toddlers and infants; and consistently bad emissions, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Covington currently has a ban on asphalt plants and Lakeside Industries is in the process of moving their plant out of the city.

According to Lakeside president Michael Lee, they chose this site because “it’s got all the right kind of characteristics of a good site for an asphalt plant.”

Lee stated that neighborhoods and residents will not be very close to the plant, but the blueprints of the project revealed it will be less than 500 feet from residential areas.

Beyond the residential complaints and the fear that property values could drop by approximately 56% according to Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, other potential dangers lurk, according to Baker.

“1.3 million people rely on this river for drinking water,” Baker says. “This water could and will be polluted with particulates from the plant.”

Salmon and trout would be in danger of surviving near the plant due to increased toxins in the water and the increase of lights during evening and night hours.

“Emerging research suggests artificial nighttime lighting alters the behavior of these juvenile migrants in ways that make them more susceptible to predation and increases the length of time their predators actively feed,” an environmental report from the Salmon Habitat Conservation read. “Reductions in predation rates and improved survival of juveniles is critical for boosting our odds of recovering self-sustaining Chinook populations.”

“This will kill off generations and generations of fish,” Baker said.

King County officials announced the completion of a five-year, $6.5 million project to restore natural habitats in and near the Green River last week. Salmon was one of the species positively affected by this restoration plan.

Chinook salmon (also known as king salmon) are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to Salmon Habitat Conservation.

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“One of the scariest things about this plant is fire, and the potential of fire,” Baker said. “Asphalt plants burn and explode constantly. It happens once a month across the country. This is an extremely wooded area. No doubt in my mind we would lose citizens if a fire broke out.”

Another concern is the potential of a landslide caused by the asphalt plant’s production. This was confirmed by Hugh Brown, Ph.D., the former president of the Indiana Land Protection Alliance.

“Although the project site is relatively flat, geologic studies done in the area show that the steep canyon walls above the site are mantled with unstable soils,” Brown wrote in a report. “These soils have a high potential to move and could reach the developed portion of the site as a result of an earthquake or erosional processes resulting from a period of high rainfall which lowers soil strength. There is ample evidence that the site has significant risks that need to be addressed.”

Brown received his Ph.D. in soil management from Iowa State University and taught environmental management at Ball State University.

“All this has the potential of being another Oso,” Baker said.

Oso, Washington was the location of a landslide in 2014 that killed 43 people and destroyed 49 homes.

“I think this could be one of the biggest environmental injustices since the Duwamish River,” Baker said. “And to be clear, I’m not against asphalt. It’s one of the more reusable products we have in the U.S. What I am against is the areas they are deciding to put the plants in.”

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King County decided not to file for an Environmental Impact Statement, stating the issues being brought to the council are not up to the parameters for an EIS. An EIS is up not required for construction projects this size, leaving it up to the discretion of the county.

“We have every intention of stopping this project,” Baker said. “We will take this to the very end. If it takes another five years, it takes another five years.”

“I am not an activist,” Baker continued. “I am a citizen preserving my community, my home, my quality of life, and the river I love.”

Baker said this project and organization has become a full-time job for him over the last four years. He credits the “very dedicated” board of directors who work anywhere from 20-40 hours a week on this alongside a growing collection of “wonderful” volunteers.

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‘Save the Cedar River’ to file appeal this week against new asphalt plant in Renton