Fruit Valley has become an ironic name for Vancouver’s largest neighborhood.
At least that’s what some of the area’s residents and local conservationists say about Vancouver’s westernmost neighborhood, which once contained an abundance of natural wetlands and agricultural space.
It’s now home to a greater quantity of industrial operations that may soon include a large warehouse facility stretching across 35 acres — roughly the size of about 26.5 football fields. It will be nudged against fruit producer Firestone Pacific Foods Inc.’s 74 acres of blackberries and blueberries.
Industrial property giant Prologis is seeking to build three separate buildings on the site, totaling about 561,800 square feet. There aren’t tenants for the facility, though Prologis has built facilities for companies like Amazon, FedEx, Sysco and Dave’s Killer Bread in the past.
Prologis’ plan is one of eight proposed megawarehouses in Vancouver that were grandfathered in before the city imposed an emergency moratorium in December banning such developments.
Up in the air
When Fruit Valley resident Hector Hinojosa looks at the empty property, he imagines rumbling traffic leaving whirls of exhaust in its path. Though the plumes quickly disappear in the air, his thoughts of breathing in the residual vapors don’t.
“It’s going to be more invasive than people think it will be,” he said, referencing environmental impacts that may result from the development.
Fruit Valley residents say their neighborhood — composed of about 1,000 homes — has the poorest air quality in Vancouver, as it’s embedded in the heavy industrial zone near major roadways. It’s also one of the city’s most diverse and low-income communities.
The Washington Department of Ecology reports that diesel exhaust exacerbates preexisting health conditions, such as heart and lung disease, and is carcinogenic. In Washington, 70 percent of cancer risks via air pollution are linked to exhaust, according to the agency.
Hinojosa acknowledged the state’s move to promote electric vehicle use, but he believes these benefits won’t be observable until years after its implementation.
“There’s a lot of questions,” he said. “What are the long-term (health) impacts?”
For neighbors in surrounding trees and understories, these troubles are paralleled.
Vancouver Audubon wrote in a letter to the city that habitats and wildlife in Vancouver Lake lowlands nearby will suffer from an onslaught of traffic.
Susan Saul, the group’s conservation chair, said ground-level ozone and nitrogen oxides — chemicals from diesel exhaust — can cause damage to birds’ lungs, with long-term exposure leading to inflammation, ruptured blood vessels and lung failure.
With their high breathing rate and continuous exposure to lingering particulate matter, the animals are predisposed to face the brunt of these emissions.
A traffic impact study prepared for Prologis reported that its development would generate nearly 2,000 daily trips, which its authors said would not have a significant impact on surrounding street networks.
“For this site specifically, we are and will continue to work with the city and other local groups on concerns,” Prologis representative Mattie Sorrentino wrote to The Columbian. “The city is currently undergoing its environmental review process, and the project will comply with all regulations.”
The city is required to determine if the project’s potential environmental impacts are paired with appropriate plans to address them, according to Washington’s State Environmental Protection Act.
Groups are asking the city to submit a State Environmental Protection Act Determination of Significance, arguing that the current proposal is vague. That would require there to be an in-depth environmental impact statement describing anticipated effects.
If Vancouver doesn’t issue a Determination of Significance, the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association can appeal within 10 days.
Prologis’ original plans included using a segment of the city’s anticipated 32nd Avenue extension as one of its four access points to the site. The road extension is a separate project from Prologis Park and is designed to relieve freight congestion in Fruit Valley’s industrial areas.
This presented a challenge to planners, because the road would bisect part of the Vancouver Lake lowlands, which is legally considered a conservation area. Using this land comes with restrictions, notably that the city would have to substitute other land for preservation.
Ryan Lopossa, Vancouver transportation and streets manager, said the city asked Prologis to put its contribution to the 32nd Avenue extension on hold while the city reviews its alignment. In turn, the city will not be able to assess the impact that the extension might have on the environment.
The extension was not included in planners’ initial State Environmental Protection Act checklist or application notice in December, making some question the application process.
Bronson Potter, a former city attorney watching the Prologis development, took fault with this omission. He said the 32nd Avenue extension will have significant environmental impacts on the lowlands. He said it’s characteristic of a theme that similar large-scale developments will take root near Vancouver Lake lowlands.
“There’s significant pressure for continuing developments,” he continued, “(but) it’s property that deserves to be protected.”
Ed Hamilton Rosales, though not a Fruit Valley resident, has been involved in notifying residents and coalescing behind requesting further environmental impact studies. He views Prologis Park as a small piece of a larger issue of developments overburdening already vulnerable areas.
While welcoming new industries is necessary for the city’s economic growth, Hamilton Rosales tapped it as the “destruction of the lower class.”
Residents and environmental advocates said they are critical of how the city chooses to build industrial facilities, as it appears they are concentrated in already-overburdened areas. Ambiguity surrounding Prologis’ environmental impacts contributes to their uncertainty.
“Environmental review is not supposed to be piecemeal,” Potter said.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.