Snoqualmie Mill Site study faces criticism over impact on rural King County

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Snoqualmie Mill Site development has raised concerns from the King County Department of Local Services and a local nonprofit, who say the document is insufficient in addressing potentially adverse impacts of development.

The 259-page study was released by the city in December with the goal of identifying impacts, alternatives and mitigation tactics associated with developing the 261-acre property into 1.83 million square feet of commercial, light industrial and residential properties.

The Mill Site property has been a contentious topic since it was annexed by the city in 2012, following a pre-annexation agreement with project developer Snoqualmie Mill Ventures LLC.

Development of the property can bring needed revenue to the city, as one of the largest undeveloped commercial spaces in the county, but the site poses a high risk to human and environmental health, as it ranks among the state’s most contaminated.

In a letter to the city, Jim Chan, the director of the Department of Local Services’ permitting division, said the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) failed in several respects to address the department’s concerns with the draft EIS.

“We feel this FEIS does not adequately consider impacts to rural King County,” he wrote. “We ask you to please review and seriously consider our concerns.”

Chan’s letter included a list of concerns over water supply, adequate cleanup of environmental contamination, degraded health of salmon populations, a lack of coordination in traffic issues, river channel mitigation and soil stability.

The Department of Local Services, which serves as a local government to unincorporated areas, has concerns with how the development could harm adjacent communities, said Brent Champaco, a DLS spokesperson. Despite concerns, he said DLS lacks the information to forecast long-term impacts of the project.

“Several sections of the [FEIS] were vague,” Champaco said in an email. “Despite our effort to request more information earlier in the process.”

An interview request made to the city by the Valley Record was redirected to the city attorney, who did not return multiple requests for comment for this report.

The Mill Site is expected to be developed in three separate phases over a 10- to 15-year period, with no contamination found in the first phase of development, according to the Department of Ecology.

However, the DLS is concerned that this phasing approach has led the city to neglect analysis of latter phases 2 and 3 in the FEIS, which it says could impact future water supply, water quality and contamination clean-up.

“Of acute concern are issues which are ignored or dismissed indefinitely until later phasing,” Chan wrote. “It’s apparent the proponent has sliced off the immediately profitable and developable area as planning area 1. Work in the more costly planning areas 2 and 3, which require more mediation, could cease and never be addressed.”

A prominent phasing concern, Champaco said, includes future water supply for those living in unincorporated communities who are serviced by Snoqualmie water.

The city has enough water rights to service the first phase of development, but will require additional rights to service the second and third phases of development. DLS claims the FEIS does not provide analysis about where these extra water rights will be obtained.

Sharing similar concerns, the Snoqualmie Community Action Network (SCAN), a small nonprofit comprised of Valley residents, filed an appeal of the FEIS on Dec. 22.

SCAN and the city met for a procedural pre-hearing meeting on Feb. 12, with their appeal expected to be heard by a hearing examiner in the coming months. The group said it has already raised over $20,000 in efforts to hire legal counsel and consultants to study environmental impacts.

In their 144-page appeal, SCAN claimed that the FEIS failed to adequately analyze adverse impacts of the Mill Site or provide reasonable alternatives to address environmental concerns and potential traffic impacts. It also claims traffic data used by the city is outdated.

Alongside those claims, The appeal includes reports from third-party ecological and traffic engineering consulting firms reviewing the draft EIS, both of which said areas of EIS are in need of additional analysis.

“The city’s approach to this environmental review mirrors its complete lack of thoughtful impacts to the community and lack of desire to involve its community members,” the appeal reads.

According to its appeal, SCAN is requesting that the FEIS be remanded to the city with instructions on how to revise it.

Lacy Linney, a SCAN member, said the group is not against the development, or growth, but would like to see more up-front planning and that the city requires the developer to clean-up the site prior to construction. She said they also have concerns that many residents are unaware of the development.

“If people are for the development and the opportunity that could come out of it that’s great, but I think they should hold the city council accountable to protect the environment,” she said. “We are more concerned with things being addressed up front rather than as the building goes along.”

After the fallout of the Salish Lodge Expansion, build-out of the Snoqualmie Ridge and the pandemic, the development could be an important source of new revenue as the city continues to work to address a forecasted revenue shortfall in 2025, with the first phase alone expected to generate an estimated $7.4 million net benefit to the city. The full build-out is estimated at $32 million net benefit.

Potential action on the project and review of the EIS by the city is not expected until the spring, or possibly summer, at the earliest, a city spokesperson previously told the Valley Record.

Cheryl Ann Bishop, a spokesperson for Ecology’s Toxic Clean up program, said the department will continue to work with the city to ensure required cleanup actions are taken.

“The need for cleanup has been acknowledged by the city and developer, and cleanup will be integrated as part of the redevelopment,” she said. “This is a large and complicated site and we understand there are a lot of concerns.”