Point Ruston settlement with union could bring financing help

Developers of Point Ruston and a hotelier have settled with a carpenters union over the union’s claims the former Asarco copper smelter was a dangerous work site.

Under the lawsuit settlement, the Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, long a critic of the Point Ruston development, is changing its tune about the massive mixed-use project.

The agreement provides for that union to assist Point Ruston LLC to find new sources for financing for the development, which has slowed to a crawl since the recession began.

“We don’t make financing decisions ourselves, but we can provide introductions to a lot of people in the pension investments world,” Eric Frankline, spokesman for the carpenters labor group, said Friday.

Mike Cohen, managing partner for Point Ruston LLC, said the development group is “poised to put many union trade people back to work.”

The federal suit, brought by Point Ruston and hotelier Silver Cloud Inc., sprang from the carpenters’ efforts to cast the development in an unfavorable light. The 97-acre Point Ruston site is a federal Superfund site because of the legacy of arsenic and other toxic substances that the smelter left behind. The developer said that the union’s efforts to picture the site as poisoned were defamatory.

A 25-year cleanup effort has removed much of that material or buried it beneath a layer of clean soil.

For its part, the union contented the site itself was dangerous and that one contractor on the project didn’t train employees on how to work in that environment.

Utility work is continuing, but housing construction along the water has stopped. Loren Cohen, legal affairs manager for Point Ruston, said he hopes that construction can resume next fall after the sanitary and storm sewers, water lines and roads are complete.

A tree-lined waterfront boulevard is expected to replace the two-lane street that now snakes around the site and which passes through a narrow tunnel. That tunnel will be closed once the new road opens next summer, Loren Cohen said.