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Friday, March 15, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sound Transit gets green light to buy land for light rail

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sound Transit's board yesterday authorized the agency to start buying property for its controversial light-rail line through Seattle's Rainier Valley.

Leaders of the regional-transit agency characterized the move as another step toward making the 14-mile line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila a reality.

"It's time for us to stop talking about this project and actually start doing this project," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, a Sound Transit board member.

But some Rainier Valley foes of light rail called the board's action an unfair blow against the largely minority community.

"You're moving the blacks out of Seattle," said Elizabeth Jackson, a leader of Elks Cascade Lodge 1416, whose property Sound Transit wants to acquire in part.

"You don't live there. You don't care about us."

Staff members said Sound Transit could begin making offers to property-owners in two to three months. The agency probably won't know by then whether it's getting the federal money it needs to build the line, but staff members said Sound Transit feels good about its chances.

And any property that's purchased can always be sold if the project collapses, they said.

Sound Transit plans to acquire 64 Rainier Valley properties in their entirety and parts of 232 other parcels. Owners include big corporations with names such as Safeway and Tosco, and individuals with names like Hoang, Chinn and Salazar.

Sixty businesses and 38 homes and apartments would be displaced by the project, Sound Transit estimates.

The board resolution authorizes the agency to pay relocation costs. It also authorizes condemnation if property owners aren't willing to sell. Altogether, property acquisition along the five-mile light-rail segment between Beacon Hill and Boeing Access Road is expected to cost more than $89 million.

Construction of the entire 14-mile line is scheduled to begin this summer. Sound Transit says trains will start running in 2009.

The route through Rainier Valley has been criticized ever since Sound Transit decided to put tracks on the surface in that neighborhood. Some residents and business owners noted that the agency had chosen to tunnel under more-affluent neighborhoods and charged Sound Transit was practicing environmental racism.

A group called Save Our Valley sued. A federal judge last summer dismissed all but one of its claims, at the same time lifting an injunction that had prevented Sound Transit from negotiating with property owners. Save Our Valley has appealed.

The agency wants a 15-foot-wide strip of Elks Cascade Lodge 1416's 8,500-square-foot property along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. The land Sound Transit wants now is used for parking; Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said the lodge building itself wouldn't be affected.

But Jackson and Jimmy Rogers, the lodge's vice president, said Sound Transit's plan would force the fraternal organization to move.

"We have nowhere else to go," Jackson said.

Rogers said the lodge just spent $18,000 improving its parking lot and wondered whether Sound Transit would reimburse it. Somerstein said any improvements would be considered.

Eric Pryne can be reached at 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com.

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