As I write this while on Navy Reserve duty in Japan, I am fewer than 175 miles from Fukushima, site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Japan has some of the most industrialized ports in the world. I know first-hand how communities can be impacted by large industrial projects both positively and negatively.
Impacts can be serious and deserve rigorous community input and evaluation, and frankly should be in alignment with the vision of a community before they are even considered.
What disappoints me most thus far about the current discussion about a proposed methanol plant is that a clear vision for Tacoma’s waterfront doesn’t exist. I believe our waterfront is our greatest asset for future success in Tacoma.
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We must have a more clearly defined list of expectations and goals to best manage our waterfront and Tideflats. Such a vision would give those seeking to locate in Tacoma a clear picture of the size and scope of projects for the Port of Tacoma to consider before going to the city, state or feds for permits and a regulatory OK.
I want to see the port and city consider a subarea plan for these parcels. This will allow citizens, the port and the city to develop a clear vision that defines what projects and industries meet the goals of Tacoma’s future.
I believe livability is also a key ingredient to our success. A subarea plan would allow citizens, as well as the city, port, utility providers, our tribal partners and existing port tenants who create jobs a chance to say what they believe is the future of Tacoma.
A second policy consideration I will seek would require projects over a certain size, scope and resource to take an extra step prior to entering into an agreement to proceed.
I am amazed by the thousands of Tacomans who have turned out to voice their concerns about the size of the methanol project. Because I’m hearing these concerns while in Japan, I feel obligated to share my vison for Tacoma as it relates to any project.
My vision is of a city that is less industrial than its past. We can have jobs and commerce and quality of life, but we also must have a better understanding of what the parcels in the port and surrounding area are able to handle, and what are the right projects and zoning to create the future we want.
I pledge to do everything in my power to keep Tacoma safe, first and foremost. My district includes Northeast Tacoma, the Dome District and the downtown, which would be particularly vulnerable to any industrial accident on the Tideflats. I care about all projects seeking to locate in Tacoma, not just ones that are the “largest in the world.”
I will fight for a Tacoma waterfront that looks a great deal different in the future than it did in 1916 and 1976, and different than it looks today. I am certain in my kids’ lifetimes we will not have a rail bed bifurcating us from the waterfront. What made sense a century ago along our waterfront simply doesn’t withstand logic, science and best utility today.
I believe our port also must be able to efficiently, safely and expeditiously grow in order to send our wonderful Washington state products to a worldwide audience and grow our economy and jobs.
The secret to Tacoma’s success is to make our interface with the water better for our citizens first, and by doing so to inspire others to start businesses and families in Tacoma. We need more amenities on the waterfront, more restaurants and shops that are easier to access and enjoy.
I consider the pause that Northwest Innovation Works is taking on the methanol project to be a good thing. The company and/or the port should have done so after the project’s size changed so dramatically late last year. Now more information can be gathered concerning the potential environmental threats of the project.
Robert Thoms is a Tacoma City Council member representing District 2.