Northwest NEWS

March 11, 2002

Front Page

Anti-Brightwater legislation off-track

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   No doubt Brightwater planners breathed a collective sigh of relief when legislation designed to waylay the proposed north-end sewage treatment plant failed last month.
   The bill, written by former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge on behalf of a protest group opposed to an Edmond's Brightwater, sought to prevent King County from condemning land for a new sewage treatment plant in Snohomish County unless city and county authorities where the land was located found the facility to be consistent with that city or county's comprehensive plan.
   The bill died in committee.
   "We're very happy about it (failing)," said Christy True, Brightwater spokeswoman. "It could have compromised the whole project. It could have blocked it entirely."
   "Actually, I'm glad the bill failed," said King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert (R-District 3). "We have 170,000 (Snohomish County) customers we are already serving. Right now their effluent is being piped down here (to the West Point facility or all the way down to Renton)."
   Lambert explained that the "window is tightening to have the plant online."
   "We have to realize our sewage system is now at 80 percent capacity. The new plant must be online by 2010. If it's not on the drawing board by 2005, there will be a building moratorium (imposed on the entire service area)," Lambert said.
   Said True, "The DOE (Department of Ecology) has put us on notice. If we don't see regular progress on our milestones, if we're not in construction by 2005, we're going to have to stop building in the service area before we run out of capacity."
   Testimony against the House bill stated, in part, that if the measure were to pass, it could derail the comprehensive siting process that has taken place over the past two years. King County sewage treatment ratepayers have paid $15.7 million for the siting process to date, and this bill would cost them another $5 million to find another site.
   Now with the Edmond's legislation sidetracked, dead in committee, one would think it would be clear track for the Brightwater project. Not so.
   Another obstruction on the rail could be the proposed Northshore School District Transportation, Operation and Maintenance Facility - its Support Services Center ... or bus barn. According to the school district Web site, the $12 million project is one that the district would like to see underway by this summer (provided all its permits are in order) and completed by the summer of 2003.
   The hitch for the Brightwater folks is that the school district already owns the 18-acre site planned for the bus barn. King County, however, is eying those same 18 acres to be part of its 111-acre Grace sewage plant site.
   "We don't think they're compatible," said Brightwater spokeswoman True of the bus barn and the sewage treatment plant. "Our plans are to provide for a facility and a nice buffer and mitigation."
   Siting the treatment plant next to the bus barn "is not workable" said True. She said Brightwater plans would most likely use those 18 acres as part of its 40-acre, $40 million mitigation program.
   "There are a number of little streams in the area. Some are piped underground and it would be nice to daylight them, to route them in a more natural setting, rather than in pipes," said True.
   "We know it's important for the school district to have its (transportation facility) built. Even though we haven't picked our plant site yet, we would like to work with the district to find another location or solution," she said.
   Northshore School District, however, still has a way to go before getting the necessary permits to build its transportation facility. In fact, the district's conditional use permit, issued in November 1998, is currently under reconsideration.
   King County, which is not a party of record in the conditional use permit (CUP) case, would like to become one and has submitted a letter saying so to Peter Donohue, Deputy Hearing Examiner for Snohomish County overseeing the school district's conditional use permit application.
   In the letter by King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng, the county contends its use of the land in question would be "less intensive" than the proposed bus barn.
   The county - for its Brightwater plant - would use the land (to the south) "for a state-of-the-art treatment facility with open space and recreation uses to the north. This is a contrast to the use proposed by the school district on its property, which will result in 800 vehicle trips per average weekday. ...The traffic congestion, noise, pollution and safety risks that accompany the school district's proposal are significant when contrasted to the Brightwater proposal, which would result in the preservation of largely open space ..., minimal noise and no safety or pollution impacts," said Maleng.
   The letter further states that "With the (school district) proposal, the entire fleet of 173 diesel school buses will arrive and/or depart from the site three times per day. During the day, the buses will also experience 'high idle' periods, necessary to pressurize air brake systems. ... The site will also host a maintenance facility where maintenance employees will use pneumatic tools and other equipment in the evening and early morning hours, thereby disrupting the rural neighborhood."
   Apparently the school district has reconfigured its proposal in order to minimize impacts identified by the court.
   Nevertheless, the letter goes on to say, "In light of the school district's apparent restructuring proposal, we urge the Hearing Examiner to consider new relevant evidence pertaining to that proposal. This would include not only additional public comment and evidence with respect to the revised school district plans, but also the fact that the Brightwater proposal, if pursued at the same site, would provide an alternative that places an essential public facility in an area consistent with existing planning policies, but without the negative pollution, noise and traffic impacts associated with the transportation, operation and maintenance facility."
   At the time this paper went to print, the hearing examiner had not ruled on the case.
   In the meantime, said spokeswoman True, Brightwater planners are doing preliminary engineering work and looking at process technologies for the plant. In May, scoping starts for the Environmental Impact Statements. They are doing a lot of geotechnical investigation to determine what the soils are like in both the Edmonds and the Route 9 sites. And in May, Brightwater staff plan to have another round of public meetings.
   Readers may remember that last year, King County Executive Ron Sims made the decision to proceed with the Brightwater project using only two candidate sites, the Edmonds Unocal site and the Route 9 (Grace) site. He felt there was sufficient information available on the two sites to warrant his selection; furthermore, he wanted to keep the project on schedule.
   At the time, some Brightwater Siting Advisory Committee members were concerned that two sites would not be enough. Their thinking was that by adding another site, the committee could prevent a delay in schedule should one of the two chosen sites prove flawed.
   The entire Brightwater project could be out of compliance with state environmental policy if one of the two final candidate sites had to be eliminated because it was not suitable. Policy states that any site undergoing an environmental impact statement must have an alternative.
   For more information about the project, visit the Brightwater Web site at