Michael Harthorne
A cyclist rides along the Burke-Gilman Trail's Missing Link, the uncompleted portion of the trail between 11th Avenue Northwest and the Ballard Locks.

Judge forces new environmental study on Missing Link

In an April 16 ruling on the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers determined that the Seattle Department of Transportation must conduct an environmental analysis on the stretch of Shilshole Avenue between 17th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Vernon Place before the trail can be completed.

That section of Shilshole was not reviewed under the city's original State Environmental Policy Act study because the most recent plans for the completion of the Missing Link, the portion of the trail between the 11th Avenue Northwest and the Ballard Locks, did not include a trail along that part.

Instead, a temporary trail was to be built on Ballard Avenue between 17th Avenue and Vernon Place for the foreseeable future.

David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, said he believes the judge made an error in including a section of roadway not up for construction in his ruling.

This ruling, as well as future legal battles, will delay the completion of the trail indefinitely, which has been the goal of the plaintiffs all along, Hiller said.

The plaintiffs in the case were Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Ballard Oil, The Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing and Industrial Center, the North Seattle Industrial Coalition and the Seattle Marine Business Coalition.

Eugene Wasserman of the North Seattle Industrial Coalition said he is happy the judge ruled in their favor on the issue of the lack of environmental review between 17th Avenue and Vernon Place.

"It means the trail won't be built next week or even this year," he said.

Wasserman said it will give the city the chance to look at safety along that portion of Shilshole Avenue, which is something both cyclists and industry representatives are concerned about.

He said the ruling was based on law, and it is fair for the judge to look at all future sections of the trail, not just the ones being built immediately.

Beth Miller of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce said she is pleased the Missing Link is being sent back to the Department of Transportation for further studies, but she is disappointed the judge did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs on more points.

She said they felt parts of the environmental impact studies that were conducted on the Missing Link were not complete and had facts omitted.

Miller said she hopes the additional period of review will allow the city to look at changing traffic numbers and conditions and also allow Ballard cyclists and Ballard residents and businesspeople to sit down and work toward a solution without the presence of outside interests.

Hiller said he wants to pressure the city to get the study done and complete the entire trail, including the stretch between 17th Avenue and Vernon Place that was to be left out, as quickly as possible.

"All those years of compromise led to no impact on property owners' position," he said. "We should return to the original route."

Kevin Carrabine from Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail said it is disappointing for trail supporters that more work needs to be done, but he believes the Seattle City Council and Mayor Mike McGinn are still strongly in favor of completing the Missing Link.

The ruling comes from a March 19 hearing between the City of Seattle and the representatives of Ballard industries.

The hearing stemmed from a June 15 lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs challenging the city’s decision not to conduct a State Environmental Protection Act review on the Missing Link.

The same group of business and industry representatives filed an appeal with the Seattle Office of the Hearing Examiner over the Seattle Department of Transportation's determination of nonsignificance on the environmental impacts of completing the trail in December 2009.

The hearing examiner ruled in favor of the city June 9.

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