Korean parish prays Sound Transit will change plans

  • Written by Brenda Sexton
  • Published in Local
The Link light rail route alternatives through Fife include elevated tracks that would pass next to the property of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish. The parish’s church was dedicated in 2006. Photo: Courtesy Merit Construction Northwest The Link light rail route alternatives through Fife include elevated tracks that would pass next to the property of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish. The parish’s church was dedicated in 2006. Photo: Courtesy Merit Construction Northwest

FIFE – With Sound Transit’s light rail system planned to come through Fife, Father Hyungyu Kim is worried about the impacts to his parish.

The two preferred routes now being studied for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension’s Environmental Impact Statement have elevated tracks passing next to the property of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish, where Father Kim is pastor. A station and 500-stall parking garage would be built nearby.

“We are opposed to any line that will run through near our church whether that said line directly contact[s] our property or not,” Father Kim wrote in a letter to Sound Transit that was accompanied by a petition signed by nearly 500 parishioners. The parish, which draws Korean Catholics from around the region, has 400 registered households.

The parish property includes the church, rectory and a convent. It’s located adjacent to low-income senior apartments, where some 25 parishioners live.

“Unlike other properties, the purpose of our property is for the practice of faith therefore it requires tranquil environment with no interruptions during faith services,” Father Kim wrote. In the letter, he also expressed concerns about:

  • the safety of children playing on the church grounds;
  • increased traffic and accidents that have occurred at other rail lines and stations;
  • noise impacts to the tranquil atmosphere that the priests and sisters need for daily prayer services;
  • a significant reduction in the property’s value.

The Archdiocese of Seattle also submitted a letter supporting the parish in its opposition to the proposed routes.

St. Paul Chong Hasang Statue
Two Sound Transit light rail routes being studied have elevated tracks running adjacent to the property of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Fife (yellow highlighting added). Photo: Courtesy Sound Transit scoping documents

“We encourage Sound Transit to find an alternative route that protects the ability of the parishioners to practice their faith at St. Paul Chong Hasang Korean Catholic Church,” wrote Ed Foster, the archdiocese’s property and construction services director.

On July 25, Sound Transit board of directors voted to further study two proposed Fife routes in a draft EIS that is expected to be issued in late 2020. After public comment, the final alignment would be chosen in 2022, with construction beginning in 2025.

“We are doing what we can do at this moment, even though there are not many options besides expressing our concerns,” said longtime parishioner Kyung “KC” Jung.

“There is frustration” among the parishioners, Jung said. “Because of the language barrier, they cannot express themselves. For many, it is not easy and often done through a translator.”

Sound Transit acknowledged the concerns of the parish, parishioners and archdiocese in its Scoping Summary Report.

But that report doesn’t reflect what the church means to its parishioners.

According to Jung, it took years to get to this place. Among other temporary sites over the years, Jung said she remembers a rental facility in Tacoma before the church was built in Fife. It was intended as to be a central location, drawing Koreans from Chehalis, Lacey, Graham, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, Federal Way, Kent and Auburn.

Since its dedication in 2006, the church has served as a place to celebrate Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals, and as a focal point for Korean holidays and community events.

St. Paul Chong Hasang’s foundation lies in the generations of Korean families it serves. Jung said she enjoys seeing the next generation fill Sunday school classrooms, where they learn about Korean language and culture along with the catechism.

“The kids are coming back with their kids now,” she said. “It’s beyond the church. It’s the culture we are sharing. It’s like our hometown.” 

Two Sound Transit light rail routes being studied have elevated tracks running adjacent to the property of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Fife (yellow highlighting added). Photo: Courtesy Sound Transit scoping documents