Dec 06, 2020 2:00 PM

Lawsuit could delay move of archive documents to Kansas City

Posted Dec 06, 2020 2:00 PM
Photo courtesy National Archives
Photo courtesy National Archives

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has vowed to fight the rapid sale of the National Archives facility in Seattle in court, saying it’s “outrageous” that there wasn’t more public notice given about an Oct. 1 meeting where federal officials fast-tracked the process.

The 10-acre site contains the history of 272 federally recognized tribes, including drafts of many tribal treaties, and only a tiny fraction of the material has been digitized, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

The trove of documents is important to members of Pacific Northwest and Alaskan tribes, who will now have to travel hundreds of miles to Southern California or Kansas City to view them.

The five-member federal Public Buildings Reform Board made the decision to close the facility in January after it concluded that the 73-year-old building had “a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million,” and that its annual maintenance costs were $357,000.

Under an accelerated timeline determined at the October meeting, a real estate contract will be awarded this month and the property will be sold by spring. The archives will be moved to facilities in Riverside, California, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Ferguson told the newspaper Friday that he was disgusted by the lack of transparency in the process and plans to sue “anyone in the decision-making in the sale of the property.”

His office is already in the midst of another lawsuit over the archives, this one over documents it has yet to receive.

“It’s the most common courtesy to give heads up to our office, or to the public. It’s outrageous," he said.

The archives here has about a million boxes of documents and is the repository of all federal records generated in the Pacific Northwest, and includes military, land, court, tax and census papers.

Already, the National Archives facility in Anchorage was closed in 2016, and those millions of documents went to Seattle. Now those seeking Alaska records would have to travel even farther.

Yakama Nation Chairman Delano Saluskin said “this is the first I heard” about the Oct. 1 virtual meeting. It was held by the little-known, five-person Public Buildings Reform Board, charged with finding excess federal property and putting it up for bids.

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, said he first heard of the Oct. 1 meeting when Ferguson sent out an email Friday.

Adam Bodner, executive director or the buildings board, said the public meeting was listed on the agency’s website, the Federal Register and that congressional offices and “different subcommittee staff” were informed.

Ferguson’s office said the plan was listed simply as an “update” on the board’s website and was listed under such an obscure title that almost no one not directly involved would have realized its importance.

The facility was one of 12 surplus properties identified by the board. The original plan was to sell them individually but the board also voted in that meeting to sell the properties as a “portfolio” due to the pandemic and a challenging real estate market.

Ferguson’s office is already involved in one lawsuit against three federal agencies filed under the federal public records law asking for documents on the decision to sell the Seattle property.

On Friday, his office asked a federal court in Seattle for permission to file a summary judgment that would force the three agencies to turn over documents.

The agencies has asked the court to delay their response until March, he said, but under the new timeline the property will likely already be sold by then.

Some U.S. lawmakers also slammed the decision and expressed hope that President-elect Joe Biden's administration will intervene.