Seattle arena deal moves forward after longshoreman lawsuit dismissed


The Seattle contingency hoping to build a new arena and relocate the Sacramento Kings to the state of Washington received good news today in a King County Superior Court room.  Judge Douglass North ruled in favor of the group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, explaining that the lawsuit filed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 was meritless at this time, while granting a dismissal of the case.

The suit, which was filed under the state of Washington’s Environmental Policy Act, claimed that the Hansen-Ballmer group’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a new arena in the SODO District of Seattle, constituted an agreement, which circumventing the environmental review process, including a mandatory environmental impact study (EIS).  Behind the initial argument is the a concern by Local 19 on what they feel would be an adverse effect on traffic and cause additional environmental issues detrimental to the Port of Seattle.

According to Local 19’s attorney, an EIS should have been completed before a deal between Hansen-Ballmer, the city and the county was signed and a potential arena site was approved.  The Longshoreman asked Judge North to rule that the city and county violated the State Environmental Policy Act when they signed off on the Hansen-Ballmer arena plan before first doing their mandated due diligence.

“A private individual should not be able to dictate the parameters of a public project,” Peter Goldman, attorney for Local 19 told the court in his closing statement.

The Hansen-Ballmer group was supported by both King county and the city of Seattle in the hearing.  Their claim hinged on the fact that the MOU is not legally binding contract and if there is no binding agreement for a new arena is in place, then Local 19 has no standing to file suit.  Judge North agreed with this line of logic.

“There isn’t a binding decision here,” Judge North said in his ruling.  “What’s been done is a frame work for further exploring situation in the advance of the EIS being done, at which point then binding decisions will be made after the EIS is done.”

Today’s ruling comes as a victory for the Hansen-Balmer group, as it partially clears one of two legal hurdles in the process to build a new arena in Seattle.  Local 19 may take this fight up again once an agreement is in place, but it is their fear that the SODO arena project will be too far advanced to derail by the time the EIS is completed.

The Hansen-Ballmer group still face a second law suit claiming that the deal in place violates Seattle’s Initiative 91, which requires the city to make a profit on any public financed sports facility.  But the court date for that suit isn’t scheduled until May of 2013, after the NBA Board of Governors are scheduled to make a decision on Seattle’s bid to purchase and relocate the Sacramento Kings to the Pacific Northwest.

It is unclear at how the NBA will approach the SODO arena MOU, which has now been deemed a non-legally binding agreement by Hansen-Ballmer, King County, the city of Seattle and Judge North.

While today was a victory for the Hansen-Ballmer group, this is just one more page in a long-winded narrative that will play out on April 18-19 at the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings.


James Ham

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