The Puyallup Tribe Welcomes Thoughtful Planning for the Tideflats


In 2019, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians will sit down with other governments in the Tacoma area to write a plan for the future of the Tideflats. We believe this exercise, known as “The Tideflats Subarea Plan,” can shape future zoning and development in Tacoma’s industrial center in a way that can align the region’s land use regulations with its aspirations. We welcome this opportunity for collaboration and partnership.

While the planning process gets underway, the Tacoma City Council has twice approved — unanimously — a temporary moratorium forbidding new fossil fuel developments in the Tideflats. The Council’s actions were a necessity to forestall growing citizen unrest, as well as an indicator that the Tacoma public imagines a better future for the Tideflats.

We are hopeful that the future is consistent with the vision of the Puyallup Tribe, where we do not trade potential jobs for pollution. We believe that economic growth and environmental protection can be seen as complements not as competitors.

To be clear, economic activity is a core value to the Puyallup Indians. The Tribe is the sixth-largest employer in Pierce County, and we are proud to welcome the community to our growing constellation of enterprises. The Tribe supports economic development in the Tacoma and the surrounding region.

But not of any sort; not at any cost.

We believe that growth should not come at a price on the health and safety of those least able to shoulder the burden. And, we believe that development should create advantages for the generations that come after us, not saddle them with debts they cannot repay. We do not want to pass on a legacy of diminished natural resources and a damaged climate.

To understand why planning in the Tideflats is so important to the Puyallup Tribe, it helps to know a little about our history. We have lived in and around the Tideflats since time immemorial. We reserved our rights to the area through negotiation of the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek with the United States Federal Government. These rights have been clarified and affirmed through subsequent government agreements, such as the Land Claims Settlement of 1990 that resolved a limited number of lingering disagreements with neighboring governments and commercial enterprises.

During the 20th century, however, poorly planned industrial development in the Tideflats damaged our health, constrained our livelihoods, and infringed on our treaty rights. For just one example, look no further than the OxyChem site, which is still saturated with toxic compounds so dangerous that they have been banned since the 1970s. Tribal members were not the only ones affected by Tacoma’s industrial pollution — many others in the region were also seriously harmed — but as a people, we bore the brunt of it — leaving our home irreparably damaged.

In recent years, we have again been alarmed — as have many residents of Tacoma — by proposals for even more fossil fuel development in the Tideflats, such as a huge petrochemical refinery, an influx of dangerous oil trains and the controversial liquefied natural gas facility that has been constructed even before it has all its permits. We see these schemes as a direct threat to our well-being and traditional way of life, as they also jeopardize the fragile health of the Salish Sea and the global climate.

The continued business as usual is not working; that much is clear to many in Tacoma. The Tribe is frustrated — indeed, outraged — at ongoing mistreatment by local governments. Faced with uncertain fossil fuel developments, the public is restive. And we understand that local governments, too, are frustrated by impediments to bringing new business to town.

It is no secret that we have not always seen eye to eye with neighboring local governments. We have always fought to protect our inherent sovereign rights and we will continue to do so. Yet at the same time, it is our belief that 2019 can mark a new era of mutual understanding and respect. By bringing all parties to the table, the subarea planning exercise provides an opportunity to plan a bright future for the Tideflats — one that respects the Puyallup Tribe alongside our friends and neighbors in Tacoma.

Bill Sterud is Chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Annette Bryan is a councilmember for the Tribe.