Time for lawmakers to clear Point Ruston impasse

Because the billion-dollar redevelopment of the Asarco site is of pre-eminent importance to the residents of the state, the Legislature should transfer the Town of Ruston portion of the Point Ruston development site into the City of Tacoma as soon as possible.

The Asarco plant has been closed for nearly 30 years. The Asarco stack was demolished more than 20 years ago. The Asarco site has been the subject of years of class action litigation, and federal Environmental Protection Agency oversight. It was designated as one of the largest Superfund sites in the United States.

Tacoma taxpayers have spent more than $30 million developing the site. The state of Washington has spent tens of millions more. Metro Parks plans to have a park developed on the site. Thus, local and state taxpayers have a compelling interest to see that their funds are being used wisely and that the Point Ruston development continues to clean up the site and becomes redeveloped.

The Point Ruston development sits almost evenly between the City of Tacoma and the Town of Ruston. Although a quaint idea, it is unrealistic to believe that a town of fewer than 800 people could manage a $1.2 billion development. Predictably, the Tacoma side of Point Ruston has been cleaned up and significantly redeveloped while the Ruston portion sits empty, covered with ominous multiacre-wide plastic capping.

In the last 10 years, the Town of Ruston has struggled to even function. The Ruston school has long been shut down. The main source of revenue from Asarco was eliminated 30 years ago. Scores of Ruston Town Council members have quit midway through their terms, causing political chaos.

Ruston has seen more than a half dozen mayors come and go since the Point Ruston project began. Due to budget concerns, the small town is forced to hire part-time contract staff in an attempt to handle development issues. With few businesses in the town, there are legitimate concerns over whether the town can remain solvent.

Hence, even with the best of intentions, Ruston has nowhere near the resources, political stability, experience or staff to handle the redevelopment of an extremely complex billion-dollar waterfront development.

Tacoma and state taxpayers can reasonably expect that the elected officials in the Legislature not allow Ruston to thwart the 40-year cleanup and development effort of the Asarco site. The City of Tacoma has shown it has the resources to handle a development of this magnitude.

The continued paralysis of the Ruston portion of Point Ruston threatens the cleanup and redevelopment of the entire site. No one would benefit from the former Asarco site continuing to sit blighted and polluted for another decade or more. Hence, prompt intervention by the state, including annexation of the development by Tacoma, is appropriate and necessary.

Erik Bjornson is an attorney in Tacoma and the former chairman of the North End Neighborhood Council.