Community Member

South Tacoma Economic Green Zone

Tacoma, Washington

Historic South Tacoma boomed in the 1890s when Northern Pacific built its railroad shops, responsible for “all the repair work west of the Mississippi” on top of what once were vast prairie and marshlands. Other industry followed, leaving dire results.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, since 1892 improper waste disposal and site activities (including an on-site landfill, rail car manufacturing/repair/maintenance, waste oil reprocessing and the operation of two foundries) contaminated soil and groundwater with hazardous chemicals within the South Tacoma Aquifer area.

In the 1980s, the EPA required Tacoma to implement a groundwater protection code and costly clean-up, but concerned residents like Heidi Stephens don’t feel confident in the city’s response. 

“The city continues to allow for many damaging exceptions and the groundwater protection code hasn’t been updated to current best-science, so contamination continues to occur and there is no appropriate protection for infiltration/recharge from large areas of impervious surface coverage.”

– Heidi Stephens

One of Tacoma’s lowest-income and most racially diverse communities, South Tacoma continues to be disproportionately impacted by heavy-industrial zoning and plagued by some of the worst air pollution and illness/mortality rates in the county. Combined with regional climatic effects, South Tacoma neighborhoods may be as much as 14 degrees F hotter than neighborhoods in North Tacoma with 11,980 people living in the southern neighborhoods where maximum temperature exceed the 90th percentile and where average per capita incomes are less than 200% the federal poverty level. Every additional degree carries significant public health costs. 

In 2021, Stephens, as a board member of the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council, submitted a code amendment to the city for a South Tacoma Economic Green Zone (STEGZ) proposal to the City of Tacoma. It calls for clean, non-polluting businesses and a zoning change away from heavy industry in the historic neighborhood. It proposes the updating of groundwater protection and the creation of the state’s first green land use zone to proactively protect the aquifer and make a more sustainable future for the neighborhood.  

However, a planned 2.5 million square foot mega-warehouse on an undeveloped Superfund site threatens much of what South Tacoma residents have been fighting for. The size of 50 football fields, the impervious pavement would significantly impact the vulnerable aquifer’s ability to recharge, jeopardizing the aquifer’s replenishment as well as disrupting the wetland/stream onsite and watershed to downstream creeks. 

“This would devastate the neighborhood and its environment with an estimated 12,000 new vehicle trips per day, and more heat and noise and light and air pollution – further complicating other businesses currently in the area and destroying some of the last natural green space for this already overburdened community.”

“Our proposal would combine many sustainable practices taking climate change into account and encourage local businesses to incorporate the Economic Opportunity Zone (EOZ) to benefit local businesses and workers for best water protection; however, the city has delayed and diluted this process.”

– Heidi Stephens

The Tacoma City Council voted on the South Tacoma Economic Green Zone proposal in June of 2022, more than a year after its submission. Split into two phases, only Phase 1A, which entails beginning a “work plan” for updating the groundwater code, has currently been passed. The actual updating of the code is being further delayed while being passed between Commission and Committee, and expectations of finally getting to the Economic Green Zone land-use code may be pushed to 2025 – and then pending budgetary funding.

South Tacoma Council on CityLine, Sept 2022

Meanwhile, residents are seeking technical assistance on current best-science regarding groundwater/aquifer hydrology and air-quality to inform community members and city officials in their decision-making. As well, they are looking for assistance with legal, regulatory, and policy review as they raise awareness about impending threats like the proposed mega-warehouse. 

“We want to protect our last forest, wetlands, and aquifer but the proposed warehouse could pave over a lot of that and bring even more air pollution to an already overburdened community, so we’re trying to get the city to see our vision,” Stevens said of her group’s effort.

For more information:

Warehouse Pits Locals Against Developers, Tacoma Weekly, April 2023

South Tacoma Mega-Warehouse Opposition (46 second Video) 

Proposed Warehouse in South Tacoma Has Residents Worried About Exacerbation Of Current Inequities (1min 19 sec audio) 

South Tacoma Council on CityLine (Cable TV segment) 

STEGZ Meeting on Bridge Industrial Warehouse Project (60-minute video) 

Current Zoning heavy industry directly above the aquifer and through South Tacoma neighborhood 

South Tacoma Aquifer and Recharge Area 

South Tacoma Economic Green Zone/STEGZ (proactive approach benefitting the entire city) 

Is city ramming through a big warehouse project in South Tacoma? Some folks think so 

Kerri McLean

Kerri McLean

Kerri is a Florida-based educator and writer devoted to telling the stories of heroes on the front lines of environmental justice. Experiencing over 30 years of hurricanes in the Florida Keys, she understands the ravages of climate change and repetitive flooding.


Heidi Stephens

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Climate Impacts

Air Pollution, Drought, Erosion-Subsidence, Flooding, Heat, Sea Level Rise, Superfund Sites, Water Contamination, Wildfires


Affordable Housing, Community Farm/Gardens, Community Science, Fighting Industrial Contamination, Green Infrastructure, Halting Bad Development, Nature-Based Solutions, Policy Reform, Renewable Energy

501c3 Tax Deductible


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