Northwest NEWS

October 15, 2001

Front Page


Region needs a new wastewater treatment plant

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   A patient, polite and articulate Brightwater staff and several consultants fielded queries from the public last Tuesday evening at a Brightwater Open House sponsored by King County and held at Woodinville High School. Brightwater, of course, is the planned new regional sewage treatment facility to be sited in south Snohomish County. It is on the drawing board because the area's growing population will soon push the current wastewater treatment system beyond its capacity.
   The county initiated a search for the new treatment plant site in late 1999. Early on, approximately 95 land areas were reviewed as potential plant sites. Of these, 35 were evaluated and screened and six sites were adopted by the King County Council for further evaluation.
   And that evaluation has concluded that of the six sites, four (Edmonds Unocal, Route 9, the Gravel Quarry and Point Wells) were suitable according to site selection criteria (i.e., technical, environmental, community and financial criteria). Weighing goals and policies, King County Executive Ron Sims found that two alternatives rose above the rest Route 9, located east of the intersection of 228th Street Southeast and Highway 9, close to Highway 522; and Edmonds Unocal, in Edmonds, surrounded by Pine Street, Edmonds Way and the marina.
   This far along in the siting process, the "sites" are considered "systems" (the Route 9 system, the Edmonds Unocal system) since each is comprised of not only a plant site but also of a conveyance component and a marine outfall component. The "conveyance component" of a system refers to the pipes and pumps that carry wastewater. These pipes may be placed in a trench cut fairly near the surface, then covered which is the standard method of installing pipes. Another newer conveyance option being considered is the deep-tunnel option, whereby a large tunneling machine installs the pipes with only a few access points needed on the surface. This method can result in less disruption, but requires a more extensive study of the soils and geology prior to tunneling. The "marine outfall component" of a system refers to the long solid pipe through which the treated water is discharged into Puget Sound. The pipe begins at the shoreline and extends deep into the water. At the end of the pipe is a perforated section called a "diffuser." The diffuser is the part of the outfall that releases the treated wastewater. Once constructed, the outfall will not be visible above the surface of Puget Sound. It will be placed in a suitable location to take advantage of Puget Sound currents.
   The Route 9 location has an estimated total area of 111 acres, 79 of which are estimated as usable. The site elevation ranges from 150 to 280 feet above mean sea level. The conveyance length if tunneled would be 23 miles, if near-surface, would be 22 miles. The number of pump stations if tunneled would be two; if near-surface, five. The number of portal and access shafts if tunneled would be 11; if near-surface, seven.
   The Route 9 plant site offers a large size, low elevation, flat building site, freeway accessibility, current industrial use, limited sensitive natural resources and adequate size to provide generous buffers between the plant and neighbors.
   By comparison, the Edmonds Unocal location has an estimated 53 acres of total area, 40 estimated as usable. The site elevation range is from 10 to 175 feet above mean sea level. The conveyance length if tunneled would be 13 miles; if near-surface, 14. The number of pump stations needed if tunneled would be three; if near-surface, five. The number of portal and access shafts if tunneled would be five; if near-surface, three.
   The Edmonds site offers access via a four-lane roadway and is about four miles from the nearest freeway. About half of the usable area is sloped at 10 to 30 percent and would require earthwork and retaining walls. The flat portion of the site has soils that are susceptible to liquefaction and would require foundation stabilization for construction. Short conveyance length would minimize construction costs and disruption.
   Open House attendees' concerns included, amongst others, whether the environment around a wastewater treatment plant was safe for children and the elderly. According to Public Affairs Manager, King County Department of Natural Resources, Carolyn Duncan, "Of course it's safe. Public and worker safety is a top priority. It's incredibly safe. The reason we exist is to protect public health from the impacts [of untreated wastewater]. That's why we were created, to treat and dispose of wastewater safely."
   Another concern voiced was whether odor would be a consequence of plant operation. To this Duncan said, "Odor control is a significant element of the plant. We will be using the latest technology."
   Erika Peterson, public outreach lead, conceded that the older treatment facilities do not have a perfect record when it comes to emitting odors.
   "Bear in mind, these plants were built some 40 years ago," Peterson said. She said that this new plant would be built from scratch incorporating all the latest technology, including air scrubbers, while the other two wastewater facilities have had new technology retrofitted to the existing plants. Using the latest technology from the very beginning would make a big difference in alleviating the odor problem, Peterson said.
   All presenters emphasized King County's commitment to developing and operating facilities that serve as a national model in regards to odor control.
   Philip Wolstenholme, a professional engineer representing Brown and Caldwell, an environmental engineering and consulting firm doing subcontracting work for the siting study, said his firm incorporates the latest [air cleaning] technology from New Zealand, Holland and Germany in its projects. He said the county seeks to design the system holistically, from the conveyance pipes to the plant itself, and that using odor control people from the start makes all the difference. Furthermore, the use ultra violet light to treat the water, not chlorine, is being considered. That would eliminate the "swimming pool" smell.
   Locals also wondered whether odors in this area can really be contained since the smell of a local soup factory goes all the way into Woodinville some days. To that Duncan replied, "Yes they can. Odors wouldn't escape the plant. They'd be addressed inside the facility." Duncan went on to say that the wastewater treatment facilities in San Diego and San Francisco, both using the newer technologies, have had extremely low numbers of complaints and each is built amidst urban populations. Closer to home, Duncan said, the South Wastewater Treatment Plant in Renton has had fewer than 10 complaints in the last eight years.
   Consultant Philip Wolstenholme said that the soup factory probably wasn't using technology to clean the air that it emitted. He also mentioned that weather stations would be placed at the two candidate sites to accumulate climate data (wind, air temperatures) as part of the siting study.
   Concerned citizens questioned whether traffic in the area, already a headache, would be compounded by the addition of a treatment plant.
   Michael Popiwny, siting/mitigation manager for the Brightwater project, estimated 2 to 4 truck trips a day, after construction. Additionally, there would be 20 to 30 employees at the plant.
   Greg Stephens, vice president of Little Bear Creek Protective Association (LBCPA) and neighbor-to-be of the treatment plant if the Route 9 site were selected, took a trip to the Marine Park Wastewater Treatment Facility in Vancouver, Wash., where he heard this state-of-the-art plant existed.
   "I went down there with my nose and my camera. The entire plant is inside a building that has an air lock door. The air is run through air scrubbers and exits through a stack. And I'm here to tell you, you can't smell or hear anything outside of that building.
   "The plant has a 10-plus acre park, wetlands, a riverside forest, an education center, trails and paved walkways. Half million to million dollar houses sit on a bluff above the facility. It's the movers and shakers of Vancouver who live in these houses, and before the plant was built, planners told them, 'We'll give you what you property owners want as far as design goes.'"
   Duncan confirmed, "The Vancouver, Washington, plant, built in 1997, has not had a single complaint."
   Stephens, the LBCPA and the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance (of which he is also a member) see Brightwater as the best of any choices area residents have for that land. He said they would rather see the treatment plant than the proposed Northshore School District bus barn, which he figures would add 1,000 vehicle trips per day to the roads, intrusive lighting and diesel-filled air from school buses warming up in the mornings. He and the two citizen groups also prefer the treatment plant to the 20-acre office park planned for the area. "That development could bring five buildings, 700 parking spaces and over 3,000 additional vehicle trips per day to the region," said Stephens.
   Debbie Nicely, who would live across the street from the plant if the Route 9 site were selected and who is also an LBCPA member, would like to see Brightwater in her neighborhood rather than the bus barn and office park. Moreover, she'd rather see Brightwater in her own neighborhood than in Edmonds.
   "It's hard to imagine any other development on that plot being so beneficial to the community," said Nicely.
   "With the treatment plant," she said, "the land would remain park land. It would be reorganized for the residents. They would not cut trees or pave over the land, which would make a severe difference to the Little Bear Creek ... one of the most clean, most prolific streams in the area, noted for quality habitat."
   Marge Curtis whose family's property is adjacent to and on a ridge above the proposed plant realizes the plant has to go somewhere.
   "I think these facilities belong along the water, where there's good air flow. There is no air circulation along this corridor. Looking down on the land from our property, we see a lake of clouds all along the highway. The air [if it has odors] will have to go someplace, and it will lie along the road.
   "I want to do what's right, but I feel bad for the people in the lower part, under the blanket of clouds. They would be the ones who suffer."
   Popiwny explained that after the county council approves the final site candidates, each site will undergo extensive environmental review and detailed engineering, geotechnical and cost analysis. Public input will be sought throughout the process, at public scoping hearings, at a series of community design workshops, and in conjunction with the Environmental Impact Statement.
   The King County Executive, in conjunction with the Snohomish County Executive, will announce the preferred system package in early 2003. Construction will begin in approximately 2005, with the Brightwater treatment plant running by 2010.
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