Jul 22, 2022 - News

Port of Seattle sues Boeing over Duwamish cleanup costs

Illustration of a dollar sign being formed by jet streams.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The taxpayer-funded Port of Seattle has sued Boeing, claiming it unfairly spent millions of dollars on years of planning to clean up pollution in the Lower Duwamish Waterway (LWD) that was mostly caused by the aerospace giant.

Driving the news: In its 29-page complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the port contends it unfairly shouldered the same total costs as Boeing to study the waterway's cleanup under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent order.

  • In 2000, the port, along with Boeing, the city of Seattle and King County, each agreed to pay one-quarter of the costs for the study that port officials believed "would take no more than a few years," per the lawsuit.

Yes, but: The study has since dragged on for 22 years with costs exceeding $60 million, the suit says.

  • With planning now nearing an end and actual cleanup pending, the suit says Boeing should reimburse the port millions of dollars — and pay for most of the work ahead — because the company was "by far … the party with the greatest responsibility" for polluting the waterway.

What they're saying: "It is now time for Boeing to pay its fair share," the lawsuit says. "…Boeing has profited for decades in part through inexpensive disposal of its wastes through dumping them in the LWD."

The other side: “The Port of Seattle's unilateral decision today to file a lawsuit against Boeing risks upsetting years of good-faith negotiation and collaboration among a large number of public and private parties,” Boeing told Axios in a statement Thursday.

Background: Sometimes referred to as Seattle's only river, the Duwamish Waterway flows between the neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park and through Seattle's industrial core into Elliott Bay.

  • The EPA declared a 5-mile stretch of the lower waterway a Superfund site in 2001.
  • Pollutants that for decades flowed into the river — primarily, the likely cancer-causing toxins polychlorinated bicarbonates, or PCBs — have spawned multiple lawsuits, including separate claims by the city and state against chemical manufacturer Monsanto.

Details: The latest lawsuit from the port recounts Boeing's massive manufacturing operations for over 100 years near the waterway at 10 major facilities, where commercial and military aircraft, missiles and spacecrafts were built.

Zoom in: It specifically zeros in on Boeing Plant 2, where the company built "more than 10,000 military aircraft" during around-the-clock production in the World War II era, per the suit.

  • After the war, Plant 2 "continued to serve as Boeing's primary aircraft manufacturing center," from which the company "pumped PCBs" and other toxins into the waterway "for decades," the suit says.

Meanwhile, Boeing said it has already undertaken "an early cleanup of a large area" next to Plant 2 at a cost of $120 million, as well as "restored over five acres of fish and wildlife habitat along the banks of the Duwamish."

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