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News >  WA Government

Judge blocks sale of Seattle’s National Archives facility

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives from the Pacific Northwest  (The Seattle Times)
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives from the Pacific Northwest (The Seattle Times)

OLYMPIA – A federal judge in Seattle blocked the sale of Seattle’s National Archives and Records Administration facility, which would have moved a vast collection of historically significant documents from the Pacific Northwest to other parts of the country.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined 40 other plaintiffs in filing a lawsuit against the federal government in early January hoping to block the sale, which he said had been accelerated in recent months and had not included conversations with local, state and tribal officials.

A judge will issue a preliminary injunction next week that will say Ferguson’s coalition was likely to prevail in its lawsuit, according to a news release.

“Today’s legal victory blocks the federal government’s unlawful plan to sell the Archives and scatter the DNA of our region thousands of miles away,” Ferguson said in a statement.

The facility houses treaty and other records for 272 federally recognized tribal governments in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It also houses records related to the internment of Japanese Americans and Chinese Exclusion Act case files.

The decision to sell the building was made after the Public Buildings Reform Board identified 12 facilities across the country as “high value assets” and recommended their sale. According to the board’s report, the archives building has a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million. Relocating the archives center would make “10-acres of highly valuable land available, likely for residential housing,” according to the report. The sale also would “generate the highest and best value and return for the taxpayer,” according to the report.

Spread out nationally, the other facilities in the sale proposal included two excess land sales at job corps centers, a fisheries science center, a veterans affairs medical center, a federal courthouse and an office building, among others.

In October, board officials decided to speed up the sale of the properties, citing the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on commercial real estate.

“This victory preserves our ability to physically connect to our history by visiting the Archives and accessing the un-digitized records that are deeply personal to so many,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the judge did what federal agencies should have done: considered the importance of the facility to the region.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell called the decision a victory for those who rely on the valuable local historical records stored at the Archives.”

“Despite today’s victory, the fight is not over,” she said. “Tribes and other members of our community were not consulted, and I will continue to work with the Biden administration and my colleagues to ensure these precious records stay in the Pacific Northwest.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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