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A few questions for attorney Bill Chapman

Islander Bill Chapman and his firm are representing the City of Mercer Island in the fight to stop tolling on I-90. We talked  with Chapman about his role and the on-going discussions with WSDOT.

Q. In layman’s terms, how is K&L Gates working with the city of Mercer Island on stopping the proposed tolling of I-90?

A. Well, in the usual way. Our law firm has an expertise in matters involving environmental processes. We were last year voted the number one law firm in environmental law. We have a local reputation as well, and the city asked if we can help in that matter.

When conversations began in February the state transportation agency was not going to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)  and one of our initial goals was to persuade the state that the appropriate process was to do an EIS, allowing for a fuller exploration of the alternatives, which is key to any EIS.

It’s required by law to lay out alternative ways of achieving the same goal. It’s also to acknowledge that there are significant impacts from [tolling].

The course the state was [headed] in February, [indicated] there were no significant impacts: We can do a short review without examining alternatives. We helped persuade them that was not appropriate.

Q. What type of legal avenues is the city pursuing?

A. The avenues for a successful result involved communication with decision-makers. Decision-makers in this case are the Federal Highway Administration, the EPA, WSDOT and the legislators and governor’s office, other elected leaders, mayors and county leaders. The approach is to communicate with everyone. It’s to knock on every door, talk with everyone who will listen and persuade everyone to understand how the process is supposed to work.

Q. You are yourself a Mercer Island resident. How does that influence your work on this?

A. For 23 years. I drive the commute that people are concerned about. It helps me understand.

Q. Even if this is resolved in the city’s favor, this doesn’t take tolling off the table in the future.

A. That’s absolutely true. No generation makes choices for the next. Everybody gets to choose. There might be a different approach ten or 20 years from now as different people are brought into office. That’s the good and the bad news of a sound democracy.

Q. The city has talked a lot about its partnerships with other Eastside cities. How is that taking shape?

A. Mayor Bassett has been particularly effective at that, as well as Noel Treat and the former city manager. There’s a letter that 12 city mayors signed onto that asked for the EIS study earlier this year in April or May. These conversations have helped also shape the state’s willingness to be more responsive to looking at the bigger picture.

The conversation has been civil and bipartisan and involved different cities and counties. I give credit to Rep. Clibborn and Litzow and Bassett, for having relationships that allow this to happen to the city’s advantage. These folks talk to other regional leaders. You often see it go the other way, you hear about people who can’t talk to one another. The fervor against tolling is understandable and intense, but even in that setting the elected leaders have made great strides working to achieve the city’s goals.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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