Document 43: Duwamish River and Seattle Industry

Lars Langloe, Report on the Development of Industrial Sites in the Duwamish-Green River Valley
(Seattle: City Planning Commission, 1946), 1-5, 16-17.

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Southward Trend of Industrial Expansion

The reason for the persistent southward growth and expansion of Seattle’s industrial area is very simple: The topography and transportation systems of the city and its environs to not invite such expansion in any other direction.

For fifty years or more Seattle’s industries have been spreading southward from King Street over the mud flats, first on piling, later on fills made from materials dredging from the bay and waterways to secure navigable depths along the man-made waterfront. When it looked as though industries might soon reach the estuary of the winding Duwamish River and seek expansion there, local interests planned and built the Duwamish Waterway and East and West Waterways using the excavated materials for filling in the abandoned parts of the Duwamish River channel, the adjacent low-lying areas and Harbor Island. These improvements transformed the lower Duwamish River from a winding obstruction to orderly progress into several miles of navigable waterways and provided substantial areas of suitable and well located sites for the city’s expanding industries. The greater portion of these lands are now occupied by enterprises, among them Boeing Aircraft Company’s plants 1 and 2 and others of importance and magnitude, including King County’s Boeing Airport…

The scope of this survey properly requires that at least a general consideration be given to the entire Duwamish-Green River Valley from the south limits of Seattle to and beyond the south limits of Auburn, an area of some 30 miles. This area as a while is now predominantly used for agricultural purposes and the bulk of the lands will continue to be so used during the foreseeable future. However, it is inevitable that a portion of these valley lands will be required and used as sites for expanding industry. The selection of such lands by industry will not be made at random. Rather the expansion will, and should, take place in a rational manner around and adjacent to the several established municipalities and centers of population…

Army Engineers’ Duwamish-Green River Project

Under provisions of the Federal Flood Control Act and specific authorization by Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers have for several years past been engaged in devising a feasible plan for control of floods in the Green-Duwamish basin. Several plans, many of which were proposed by local interests, have been studied and discarded as unfeasible. At the present time the Army Engineers have eliminated all but two plans: (1) The increase of carrying capacity of the Green-Duwamish channel by enlargement, diking, straightening, etc., to accommodate the estimated peak flow of 55,000 cubic feet per second. The plan is physically feasible, but the cost is far beyond anything that can be presently economically justified. (2) The construction of a flood detention reservoir on Green River some 6 miles above Auburn with sufficient holding capacity to limit the flood flow in the river below the reservoir to about 14,000 c.f.s. which, with minor improvements, the present channel can carry. The cost involved under this plan is also greater than the Engineers so far have been able to justify by the ascertainable benefits. However, this storage plan comes much closer to economic justification than the channel improvement plan…

In furtherance of the Duwamish-Green River project, and especially for the purpose of showing the early need for improvement of Duwamish Valley, it will be desirable to present to the Army Engineers the best available information on immediate and prospective need for more industrial lands. The recent war occasioned a rediscovery for the Pacific Northwest and a nationwide realization of the vastness and potentialities of the Pacific Basin to which Seattle and Puget Sound is and will continue to be one of the principal gateways. A reasonably rapid growth of industry in the Puget Sound region is a foregone conclusion, and the area around and adjacent to Elliott Bay, with its unexcelled sea and land transportation facilities, is bound to be a favored location providing sites are available. The orderly improvement and regulation of the Duwamish River, for instance, should not await the time when industries have become established on the few sites in the valley where conceivably might now be accommodated. The river must be regulated now. It is not hard to imagine what today’s conditions south of Seattle’s Spokane Street would have been without the Duwamish Water Way improvement. The Duwamish Valley problem is today’s counterpart of the earlier Duwamish delta problem. Its solution can not await the formation of a waiting list of industries ready to move in. Such lists to not form. Industries do not wait; they go elsewhere. The utilization of Duwamish Valley and certain other areas in this valley region, once the flood is removed, is not problematical or speculative; it is certain.

Conditions Favorable to Industry

The Duwamish Valley possesses most of the essentials for industrial sites development. What is lacking may be readily provided. It is not proposed to create a new isolated industrial area, but simply to facilitate the continued expansion of Seattle’s industrial district southward. Utilities and services will, therefore, be extended southward as demand arises.

The suburban areas south of Seattle on both sides of the Duwamish Valley enjoy a rapid and extensive settlement and development due to new highway routes, establishment and extension of water and electric services, and because the areas are attractive and eminently suitable for suburban homes. Likewise, the high bench lands on the east side of Green River Valley between Renton and Kent have a substantial and growing suburban population composed of part-time farmers established on small tracts of land. Many of these would be available for part or full-time industrial employment. The suburban communities of Duwamish, Allentown, Riverton and Foster, lying in and adjacent to Duwamish Valley, may at some future time give way to the demand for industrial sites, but their continued existence as suburban residential areas may be anticipated for a good many years…

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest