Northwest NEWS

January 7, 2002


Public opinion factors into Brightwater decision

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   No doubt the thought of a sewage treatment plant in the neighborhood makes some citizens cranky. Yet the prospect of such a facility down the street makes others rub their hands in anticipation. Oh, the mitigation possibilities! Still others straddle the fence of indecision, not knowing on what side of the issue they'll ultimately land.
   Of concern to some locals is the fact that a proactive Edmonds City Council recently purchased 5 acres of Unocal property - and is eyeing an additional 22. A feisty Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson even said something to the effect that the 5-acre parcel will never be sold to Brightwater. Moreover, Unocal is negotiating to sell a 25-acre chunk of its property to Triad Development, which plans to build luxury condominiums.
   Can any of this bode well for those pained at the thought of a Route 9 Brightwater?
   Christie True, Brightwater project spokeswoman, said, "We knew all of this months ago. We don't feel we need those 5-acres. If we had them, we'd use them the same way Edmonds plans to, as a waterfront park."
   As for the 22 acres the city hopes to acquire for its transportation hub, where rail and bus stations will share space with a new ferry terminal, says True, "The multi-modal stations can be built on top of the Brightwater treatment plant."
   So whether Edmonds or Unocal owns the 22 acres makes little difference to the project. But what the treatment plant cannot accommodate, says True, are the condominiums.
   "The whole site is under what is known as the Model Toxics Control Act," said True. "It's contaminated. And the state hasn't made a final decision on how to clean it up."
   Whether any of these Unocal deals goes through has no bearing on the Brightwater siting process.
   "(Edmonds Unocal) is no different from the Route 9 site," she said, "which has a property owner (contemplating construction of an office park)."
   Of solace to some might be the fact that throughout the Brightwater siting process, King County has had its ear to the ground. It has conducted a public opinion poll, focus groups and a series of public workshops.
   "We generally do polling around major decisions," said True, "just to get a sense of the general public's attitude. We also use (polling) as a way to get the public interested. With wastewater treatment facilities, it's very hard to capture the public's attention.
   "... The information we collect goes to the decision-makers, so that they can have a broader range of perspective, so that they can have a whole spectrum of opinion on the project," said True.
   "It is definitely not too late to become involved in the siting process," she said. "There will be many opportunities for citizens to participate - to influence the decision itself, to influence what the plant will look like, how it will be situated on the site. As an example, in late spring/early summer, we will host workshops where we will have architects present. Using models, we will come up with plant designs. Citizens will let us know if they want to see the plant at all [or] if they want to hide it, for instance."
   But before we fast-forward to spring 2002, let us examine a summary of a report King County Department of Natural Resources recently published, setting out key findings from each of its outreach efforts. The period covered by this report is after the King County Executive recommended two sites to move forward in the siting process and before the King County Council adopted the final candidate sites.
   Public Opinion Poll
   King County hired the Gilmore Research Group to conduct a survey to measure residents' awareness of and attitudes toward the new Brightwater facility. The sample was taken from registered voters in north King and south Snohomish counties. Telephone interviews were completed with 921 randomly selected registered voters between Aug. 22 and Sept. 30, 2001.
   Key Findings
   North King County and south Snohomish County residents strongly support building Brightwater to protect the environment. They understand that Brightwater can be a major community asset. A majority is aware of the need for Brightwater.
   Supplemental Findings
   € 75 percent of those surveyed feel Brightwater should be built in order to address the region's diminishing capacity to treat wastewater.
   € 77 percent favor building Brightwater in order to prevent pollution of rivers and beaches caused by exceeding wastewater treatment capacity.
   € 84 percent favor building Brightwater to help conserve drinking water by providing reclaimed water for irrigation and industrial uses.
   €74 percent support building Brightwater if it is environmentally safe and will have a minimal impact on the community.
   €74 percent say site mitigation such as restoring wetlands, creating ball fields or open space would cause them to support building Brightwater.
   € 76 percent of Snohomish County residents say that Snohomish County should have its own facility for treating wastewater.
   € 57 percent of Snohomish County residents are aware of the plans to build a new wastewater treatment facility.
   € 54 percent favor building Brightwater in their community, while 29 percent oppose it.
   €64 percent support building Brightwater to avoid construction moratoriums that could be in effect as early as 2005.
   Focus Groups
   Three sets of focus groups (six groups) with a total of 64 participants were conducted during the months of October and November 2001. Focus group participants were drawn from Edmonds, the vicinity around Route 9, and greater Snohomish County. Participants were registered voters, randomly selected, and represented a mix of age, gender and income levels. The focus groups were designed to explore participants' level of understanding about the project, and how and why they came to hold their opinions.
   Key Findings
   €Odor control is a priority.
   €Concerns exist regarding the facility's impact on the environment.
   €Traffic disruption is a key issue.
   €Cost overruns are a major concern.
   €Concerns exist with respect to conveyance routes.
   €The Web site is a good vehicle for public information and feedback about Brightwater.
   Snohomish County
   € Participants want more information about the project
   Many participants mentioned that they received their information from citizen activists at the Thrasher's Corner site and expressed a desire for more information, especially from sources other than King County.
   €Route 9 site is preferred over Edmonds Unocal
   Participants preferred Route 9 as a final site because of the ability to expand if necessary and because they felt a sewage treatment plant was not the best use of shoreline property in Edmonds.
   €The cost difference between the Edmonds and Route 9 sites is not a major concern
   Participants did not express any concern over the budget, nor did they think there was much difference between the $1 billion and $1.3 billion budgets for the Edmonds and Route 9 sites, respectively.
   Route 9
   €Participants are open to Brightwater at the site
   Both groups of participants were willing to consider the benefits of Brightwater, especially with respect to the use of gray water and the ability to expand if necessary.
   €Traffic is the biggest issue
   The group accepted that Brightwater would cause less traffic than other uses in the long run, but were very concerned about traffic during construction.
   €Residents are concerned about protecting the environment
   The groups were concerned about Little Bear Creek and said they would like to hear from biologists, experts and academics about the plant's impact on the creek.
   €Participants are concerned about odor control
   Residents' concerns about odor control would be dispelled by testimony of neighbors of the Vancouver plant.
   € Mixed views of King County's role in the siting process
   The first group expressed distrust of King County and did not believe any of the positive statements about Brightwater. The second focus group had mixed opinions.
   € No clear consensus exists with respect to the proposed ferry terminal relocation
   The participants were not universally in favor of moving the ferry terminal by itself. When proposed as a reason to support Brightwater (by co-locating the two facilities), some participants felt it wasn't a good reason while others felt it would never happen.
   € Residents are concerned about traffic congestion
   Participants noted that traffic is already busy due to the ferry terminal, especially in the summer, and wanted to avoid further congestion that might be caused by construction.
   € Participants want wetland and wildlife protection
   Participants wanted to see the area preserved for existing wildlife but were divided on whether Brightwater would be a good way to provide protection.
   € The existing Edmonds facility smells bad
   Residents of Edmonds were told the Edmonds sewage facility would not smell bad. However, the group had a lot of odor complaints about the Edmonds facility. They would consider validation from neighbors of the Vancouver facility.
   € Support for closing the existing Edmonds facility and combining it with Brightwater
   Many participants liked the idea of combining the two facilities, especially due to the odor control problems of the existing plant.
   € The effect of the facility on property value is a concern
   Participants expressed concern that the facility would decrease property values for homes located near the site.
   € Sports fields or natural areas are favored
   Residents expressed a desire for open areas or more sports fields, noting that recreational facilities were lacking in the area.
   € General agreement that Brightwater may not be the best use of shoreline property
   Concerns ranged from loss of property tax revenue to a general feeling that it was a waste of shoreline property to build a sewage plant there.
   Public Workshops
   In October 2001, three public workshops were held to inform citizens of north King and south Snohomish counties about King County's siting process for the Brightwater facility and its associated pipelines and out fall. The workshops solicited comments from citizens on their issues, concerns and ideas associated with siting a wastewater treatment facility at the proposed locations.
   A total of 212 people attended the workshops and 66 comments were received.
   Key findings
   € Workshop participants were concerned about odor control.
   € Environmental impacts were also a major concern.
   € Mitigation opportunities were viewed as essential.
   € The need for Brightwater was widely accepted and understood.
   Woodinville Workshop
   Comments and questions at this workshop focused on the Route 9 site and included the following major themes:
   Odor control
   € Participants believed that because the site sits low and is subject to inversions, both odors and moisture have a tendency to be trapped in the area.
   € Residents wanted the highest-quality odor control systems.
   € Participants expressed concern that Route 9 is the most expensive candidate site.
   € Many residents currently using septic tanks were concerned about the cost of hooking up to the wastewater system.
   € Participants had questions about the cost of conveyance.
   € Many worried about traffic delays and disruption due to construction.
   Edmonds Workshop
   Questions and comments at the Edmonds workshop fell under the following major themes related to the Unocal site:
   Odor control
   € Because the existing Edmonds plant sometimes smells bad, participants in the Edmonds workshop were skeptical of King County assertions that the new plant would not smell.
   Brightwater/Edmonds Crossing co-location
   € Some participants thought the site was too small for both projects.
   € Concerns were expressed regarding the feasibility of carrying out both projects within the identified time frame.
   Environmental impacts
   € Concern was expressed about flooding and the potential for landslides.
   € Some people wondered if the earthwork for the site would compact the soils on the site, altering the local groundwater system, as well as creeks and wetlands in the area.
   € Others thought that the site's size would not provide adequate buffers.
   € Some noted that the Unocal site does not appear to be well located for water reuse.
   Other land uses
   € Many participants believed there were better, higher-value uses for the property.
   € Mixed-use/residential development was proposed.
   Bothell Workshop
   The discussion at the Bothell workshop produced a number of comments and questions related to the Gravel Quarry, Gun Range and Thrashers Corner sites. The major themes expressed were:
   Siting process
   € Concern was expressed that the Gravel Quarry, which technically met the criteria, could be reconsidered.
   € Participants suggested that tests on soil stability would prove that the Gravel Quarry is not suitable for a treatment plant.
   Public Correspondence
   Nearly 60 letters, e-mails and Web site comments have been received from the public regarding Executive Sims' recommendation of the Route 9 and Edmonds Unocal sites. Approximately one-third expressed support for the Executive's recommendation; several of these also expressed opposition to adding additional sites, in particular the Gravel Quarry. Of the remaining correspondence, approximately two-thirds expressed specific concerns or requested information on the potential impacts associated with either the Route 9 or the Edmonds Unocal sites; some of these directly expressed opposition to the option of siting Brightwater at one of these sites.
   Key Findings
   Similar concerns expressed regarding both the Route 9 and Edmonds Unocal sites include odors, impacts to property values, traffic and construction impacts, and jurisdictional authority.
   Concerns expressed specifically on the Edmonds Unocal site include the issue of two treatment plants and other regional facilities being located in Edmonds, desire for other uses at this site, and protection and preservation of the waterfront and Puget Sound.
   Concerns expressed specifically on the Route 9 site include impacts to drinking wells and aquifers, air quality impacts, protection of Little Bear Creek, and preservation of the urban growth boundary.
   A few also expressed concern regarding impacts to their septic systems and whether or not they would be required to convert to the sewage system.
   Key themes and major issues were consistent across the polling, focus groups and public workshops. Residents in affected communities are largely concerned with odor control, traffic congestion, environmental impacts and mitigation procedures.
   The polling demonstrated that residents in north King and south Snohomish counties understand the need for a new wastewater treatment facility.
   Focus groups and public workshop participants, while divided on some issues, primarily were concerned with the effect the facility would have on neighborhoods, particularly with respect to odor control, traffic and the environment.