The Seattle City Council, in an attempt to avoid running afoul of environmental laws, will post draft legislation today that would allow it to codify contracts for the deep-bore tunnel without actually approving them, sources tell The Stranger. (This jibes with a rumor I posted earlier this week.)
The council is attempting to advance the city's end of the project next month—approving three memoranda of understanding with the state—without violating the State Environmental Protection Act, which prevents a government from making a decision before impact studies are complete. In this case, the state won't complete an impact study on the tunnel until summer. After that's done, the council intends to finalize the contracts.
This means that a political hot potato remains with the council, which is desperate to end debate on the controversial project before five council election campaign heat up this summer.
The legislation, which is expected to be posted here this afternoon, is reported by sources to make two main points: (1) say the first round of legislation applies through the design phase and that the council intends to revisit the issue when the state reaches its point of decision on the tunnel; (2) state that neither the mayor's signature nor an department head's signature is required to approve the contracts, just the council's vote.
However, the council may be do something clever to prevent a challenge to the contracts, sources say. The final contracts may be approved by resolution—rather than legally binding ordinance—as a means to prevent a mayoral veto or risk a citizen referendum. This power reportedly derives from an interpretation of the Washington Administrative Code as it applies to inter-local agreements.