One proposed NW site sparks debate

Associated Press/August 4, 2004

Yelm, Wash. -- Not everyone is revved up about the prospect of building a 75,000-seat stock car racetrack.

A crowd of mostly critical townspeople, including actress Linda Evans and other adherents of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, jammed a community forum in the local high school gym Monday night to hear about the possible pitfalls of a NASCAR track in their small town of 4,000 near Olympia.

Speakers said the track could choke traffic, burden law enforcement, and strain the area's drainage and sewage systems. Critics said the project would create air, noise and possibly groundwater pollution, and worried that the community couldn't absorb the surge of up to 120,000 people for the races.

"I don't want to have earplugs given to me for noise,'' said Bill Haskim, an environmental expert who was one of three presenters at the forum sponsored by critics.

Organizers said the community had no voice in the proposal put together this summer by civic and business leaders for a track on 1,400 acres.

The crowd, twice as large as organizers expected, was overwhelmingly against the project.

"Let's bring something here that's awesome and does not have the impact of a NASCAR racetrack,'' said Diane D'Acuti.

Evans provided celebrity appeal for the critics, but didn't address the crowd. She studies with JZ Knight, who channels an ancient warrior named Ramtha and runs a training center near the proposed track.

NASCAR track developers are scouting for a Northwest site for the $140 million track. The Florida-based International Speedway Corp. recently hired a Seattle law firm for advice on state business law, as well as lobbyists.

At least three Western Washington counties are eying the economic development prize.

Snohomish County made a public proposal to ISC in April, offering a site near Marysville, close to Interstate 5.

Kitsap County proposed a site on the Mason-Kitsap county line, south of Bremerton National Airport. It's part of 2,500 acres designated for industrial development, and near a community drag-racing strip.

In Thurston County, possible sites includes Yelm and at a 300-acre site in the Hawks Prairie area west of I-5 in Lacey.

Individual property owners also may offer sites along the I-5 corridor and near Grand Mound and Tenino.

Proponents say the track could pump $87 million to $200 million in regional economic development, including money spent on food and entertainment. Supporters called the forum one-sided and didn't address the crowd.

Yelm Mayor Adam Rivals and Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston County Economic Development Council, said the critics overlooked the overall benefit to the area and the fact that many tracks provide onsite treatment of stormwater and runoff from the stock cars.

"The whole thing was slanted in one direction,'' Rivas told The Olympian newspaper in an article published Tuesday. He later told a critic, "My job is to do economic development.''

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