Builders seek the same as Boeing - BIAW wants protection against certain lawsuits



Olympia, WA - If it's good enough for Boeing, it's good enough for us.

So says the Building Industry Association of Washington, which is asking the Legislature to give it at least one of the incentives that was offered The Boeing Co. to persuade the airplane manufacturer to put final assembly work on the 7E7 at Everett.

Under House Bill 3181, introduced this week by Rep. Jim Clements, R-Selah, the attorney general would be required to provide legal defense against any lawsuit filed against a developer or builder on a project on which state or local government has already issued permits.

That's the same protection, the BIAW says, that was offered to Boeing: a pledge that the attorney general will defend Boeing, and assume all costs, against suits filed by neighborhood or environmental groups over the 7E7 project.

The bill and the issue behind it highlight a continuing sore point within the business community -- the incentives that were offered to Boeing that other business owners and executives say they'll be paying for but which aren't available to them.

"So where are our special concessions?" asked BIAW President Gary Cronce, a home builder from Grapeview in Mason County, in an opinion piece issued by the 10,000-member trade organization. "Builders would love to receive tax relief, a state-sponsored worker training center" -- a lack of skilled labor is a top concern facing the building industry -- "expedited permitting, etc."

The BIAW is one of the state's most outspoken business groups and has tangled directly with Boeing before on such issues as unemployment compensation tax rates.

Cronce takes a swipe at the Boeing incentives package as "special interest pandering," but adds that as long as the state is offering such favors they ought not to be limited to Boeing.

"Developers and builders are consistently sued by no-growth activists to prevent legitimate development," Cronce's opinion piece says. "Even after the state, or a local jurisdiction, has approved and issued a permit for a project, a lawsuit filed by disgruntled NIMBYs (not in my back yard) can bring the project to a screeching halt. Such lawsuits can drag on for years, regardless of their merit, leaving the project in limbo. Even if the builder ultimately wins the legal challenge, the costs associated with the delays and defending against the lawsuit can be staggering."

Boeing's agreement with the state calls for the attorney general, or the legal representative of a local entity, to represent the company should it be named as a defendant in a legal challenge to the overall agreement, to parts of it or to permits issued at the local level, according to David Walsh, special assistant attorney general.

The Attorney General's Office hasn't taken an official position on the bill, but it does have a concern with its apparent scope. Boeing's plans for 7E7 assembly involve "a footprint that's pretty well documented where that project is going," said attorney general's spokesman Fred Olson. "As we read the bill, we think we would have to defend (a) builder for any permit anywhere in the state."

The BIAW's proposal is also likely to draw opposition from environmental and growth-management groups. John Healey, communications director for 1000 Friends of Washington, said it's one thing for the attorney general to become involved when questions are raised about how permits are issued. But it doesn't have an obligation to provide the defense in lawsuits brought against developers caused by what the developers are doing.

"I don't think the public's law firm should be asked to defend the actions of the private sector," he said.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or



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