Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dioxin at Lora Lake: A Few Good Questions

CEHKC Director Bill Block gets ashed at last summer's Lora Lake faux civil disobedience.

Ah, Lora Lake. We hardly knew ye. Last summer's affordable housing flash point fizzled with barely a whimper last week when the Port Authority issued a press release written by King County Housing Authority (KCHA) declaring their mutual agreement that the much vaunted deal to save 162 units of affordable housing in Burien is now dead of poisoning.

There will be no autopsy. But read on. Someone needs to call the coroner to see if Lora might be revived.

Apparently, levels of dioxin were found in the soil that exceed current residential standards. Testing and soil clean-up were performed in 1987 by the State Department of Ecology before the now doomed apartments were built, but, as the press release explains, things change.
However, since that time, testing and clean-up standards have been made more stringent. Results of the recent environmental analysis revealed soil contamination of dioxins and other contaminants that exceed current standards for residential use.

Though remediation will still be necessary, the lower environmental standard required for industrial purposes means eventual redevelopment for an industrial use, rather than a residential use, likely remains financially feasible.
At this point, the "homeless advocates" involved collectively shrug, throw up their hands, heave a deep sigh, and say, "Dioxin. Watcha gonna do? Can't poison poor people can ya?"

Here's "homeless advocate" Sandy Brown, quoted in Jennifer Langston's recent Seattle PI article.
Sandy Brown, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church who led demonstrations and prayers to preserve the apartments, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

However, he agreed it doesn't make sense to spend scarce affordable housing dollars on cleaning up pollution.

But last year's controversy, he said, sent a clear message that government-owned housing serving lower-income residents shouldn't be bulldozed and not replaced.

"I think we're not going to see the same cavalier approach to (destroying) 160 units or so as we did in this case, so it's still a victory," Brown said.

Yo, Sandy. Way to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. I am totally inspired. Thanks for the prayers.

And intrigued at how similar your messaging is to Rhonda Rosenberg's at KCHA. Real Change reporter Cydney Gillis covered this story, and her notes contain a remarkably similar quote. "As a result of all this stuff that's happened, the Port has become more sensitized to the importance or regional need for affordable housing." The Lora Lake fight, she said "focused much-needed attention on the region’s loss of affordable housing."

It's nice to see so much agreement on the terms of surrender.

Should any of the fire breathing advocates who have apparently given up on this decide to take a closer look, here's a few questions they might ask.

According to a Port of Seattle press release issued last February to announce suspension of the deal pending further testing, samples were taken at depths of seven and fourteen feet. Soil mitigation, however, only occurs two feet down. This, presumably is what happened when the site was tested and cleaned in 1987 prior to original construction.

So, why the sudden interest in finding deeply buried contaminants? It just seems odd. I'm not a scientist, but looking around on-line, it seems like soil testing usually focuses on samples taken at much shallower depths.

Also, there's the needing to have it both ways issue.

When one decides to demolish an apartment building due to dioxin contamination, one runs the risk of a class action suit by former tenants. This issue was addressed by Rosenberg in Gillis' earlier Real Change piece when the deal was first suspended.
"... the housing authority does not believe its previous tenants, who were evicted in June, would have been exposed, as the contaminants are believed to be sealed under Lora Lake’s concrete-on-slab construction."
Let me ask a possibly naive question here. If the contaminants are sealed, and no one is exposed, then what's the problem? Unless, of course, you tear the place down.

So, why is the deal off again? Maybe I'm just shooting in the dark here, but it seems like these are questions worth asking. Serious activists don't always believe what they're told.


Pastor Rick said...

Why would housing funds be used to clean up someone else's mess? Isn't the poluter liable for the cleanup?

This reeks, like rotten fish from the Duwamish River.

We could sleep a load of homeless folks at the Bell Street Pier. That development spelled the end of camping out at the north end of the viaduct; with it came people with money, and they don't want to be reminded about "those" people.

Bill said...

published July 16th, while even you great-thou-art-Tim were a-sleeping (see next post also):

Letters to the Editor
Last updated July 15, 2008 5:47 p.m. PT



Cleanup shouldn't spell end of housing I concur with the position of the P-I ("Lora Lake Apartments: Toxic conclusion," Tuesday) yet I go further.

The P-I asks, "We wonder: Isn't it worth spending $8 million to clean up units that would cost $30 million to replace?" It's my understanding the soils below the units are toxic, thus the units must come down for a cleanup.

However, I don't see that necessary cleanup as ending use of the site for affordable housing. The most critical piece of the countywide puzzle that stymies creating more low-income housing is land. In fact, land is such a hot commodity that those leading efforts to provide low-income housing are escalating their campaign to discern how many congregations may have excess land on which low-income housing could be built.

Without question, the greater source of available land is publicly held, and perhaps no greater holder of available land proximate-to-jobs exists than the Port of Seattle. It is time to have the port exercise responsible leadership regarding the welfare of the public and its port employees (who are also negatively affected by the lack of nearby affordable housing).

The port must play a central part in ending homelessness and building affordable housing in King County. We cannot afford to exempt any public governing body that acquires and maintains public assets from its full responsibility to all public needs.

So I insist: To the port, clean up the Lora Lake apartments' site, including the adjacent lots, and deliver the pristine property to the King County Housing Authority. To the city of Burien, stop applauding the loss of available land for housing. It is land lost to the critical housing shortage only if we allow public leadership to be irresponsible.

Bill Kirlin-Hackett
Director, The Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness

Bill said...

reply to my letter to the editor (and note that the Port in effect takes no responsibility for toxic land, and when I do sit down with Mr. Creighton I hope to remind him that at one time there were federal dollars to clean up the mess one has left behind, and that ought be in play at the Lora Lake site. Of more concern for your post ought be those taking action as compared to those writing about others not taking action; it is appropriate to challenge you as a person of action to go beyond words,...something you know all too well):

To: Bill Kirlin-Hackett


I thought you made some very good points in your letter to the editor today in the Seattle P-I.

The Port of Seattle is very much impacted by the region’s affordable housing crisis. Port activities sustain over 200,000 jobs in the region, and those mostly blue collar workers are having a more and more difficult time finding affordable housing for themselves and their families.

I believed that the Lora Lake settlement reached last year was a good one, and one that was elegant in addressing each of the Housing Authority’s, the City of Burien’s and the Port’s interests and concerns. I am disappointed that it did not work out, and while I do not wish to speak for them, I believe that the King County Housing Authority’s concerns with the property were greater than just the potential cleanup costs, and also included the potential legal exposure of housing families on the property. It was the Housing Authority’s decision alone to ask to terminate the settlement agreement.

One of several positives that came out of the settlement process in my opinion is that a wider group of regional stakeholders are now communicating on the housing issue. The Speaker of the House and Representative Dave Upthegrove should really be commended for their roles. The Port and others are in ongoing conversations about how we can be helpful in addressing the regional affordable housing crisis. We of course have a different legislative mandate than the Housing Authority, but as you correctly point out in your letter, the issue is one that directly impacts the entire region including the Port, so we are open to exploring ways that we can play a role.

I would be happy to sit down with you and hear your thoughts on how the Port could be helpful on the regional problem.

Best, John

John Creighton
Seattle Port Commission
Pier 69 - 2711 Alaskan Way
Seattle, Washington 98121
d (206) 728-3509
f (206) 728-3381

Tim Harris said...

Jesus bill, I am so sorry. I asked around to see if anyone was taking action and no one had heard of anything. And here it turns out you'd written a letter to the editor and I missed it. I am awed by your powerful advocacy, which moved the Port Commissioner to send you the same talking points everyone else seems to be using. Nice work!

Next time I'm sitting on my dead ass doing nothing but writing in my blog, which, as you know, is pretty much all the time, I'll remember that Bill Kirlin Hackett is out there, and how utterly unappreciated he is. And if I happen to forget, I'm sure you'll remind me.

Bill said...

Ah,... so, is this last reply a shot across my bow? A warning: "Don't cross the blog owner?" Hard to imagine that people to whom you talk don't read the P-I when you say "you've checked around." I can grant you ignorance (which I practice all- too-well all-too-regularly)if you would be less snippy; after all, you started the ball rolling as if your reporting was "breaking news." Come down to earth and see who's a colleague in all this. I don't actually need more crap at my door since it comes from the usual suspects to me as it does to you. And btw, I'm among the least self-promoting advocates around, so your reply could hardly be more a true pot-calling-the-kettle... The bottom line remains, we've already had one meeting with real principals in this, not to talk about it or write about it, but to develop a remedy and plan. If those still interest you, plans and remedies,... be in touch. Despite your getting snippy, as happens with all of us one time or another, you are an asset in getting what we all want. This will stay at the press release level if defensiveness is what we ask for. What do we say eye-to-eye? And let's not write what we'd say; ;et's say it eye-to-eye. In the meantime I remain your adoring fan (snicker)...

Tim Harris said...

Bill, your thin skin is bleeding all over my blog.