Northwest NEWS

April 8, 2002

Local News

Route 9 task force discusses Brightwater project

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   It's a given. A new King County wastewater treatment facility is coming. It's not a question of "when"; the project timeline indicates construction on the so-called "Brightwater" plant will begin sometime in 2005. It is, however, a question of "where."
   Two sites are currently under consideration: the 53-acre Edmonds Unocal site and the 111-acre Route 9 site. Already, experts are studying traffic conditions, land use, geotechnical conditions, marine resources, noise, endangered species habitat, and cultural resources at each candidate site.
   Informal task forces have been formed in the communities immediately adjoining each of the two proposed sites. Brightwater literature defines the task force mission (in part) as one where members "bring their ideas, perspectives and insights to each meeting. The new Brightwater treatment facilities will serve the region for generations to come, and final siting decisions must incorporate the interests and perspectives of the region's many stakeholders. The task forces will provide a forum for King County and individuals who live near and around the potential plant sites to work together in a cooperative manner on Brightwater matters."
   Part of what Brightwater officials are asking task force members to do is to keep their ears to the ground, to be a conduit into the community, to help reach out and engage as many people as possible. Officials want to know how to interact with the community, how to be better informers.
   Now bear in mind, not everyone on the Route 9 Community Task Force, which held its first meeting last week, is pro-Brightwater. Nor do Brightwater officials expect them to be. In fact, no one assumes task force members will be ambassadors for the billion dollar-plus project. Nor are Brightwater officials engaging in this forum to proselytize or convert anyone. They made that clear.
   "Though we can certainly use all the help we can get," joked Michael Popiwny, siting and mitigation manager for the Brightwater project.
   During last week's meeting, Route 9 Community Task Force members were candid and articulate. No one was shy. As the meeting progressed, members shared their own perspectives of the project or what they had heard about the project. Comments were enlightening. Even a few rumors took wing.
   "You asked us what we want," said one task force member. "I want Disneyland. What are we replacing? A junkyard. What do I want? I want Disneyland."
   Another member said, given the current distrust for government, perhaps Brightwater officials should present more factual information, more graphics to the public. She said don't let the public wander around a series of booths, left to draw their own conclusions. In essence, help them out. Be direct. Because the conclusion the public comes to, might not necessarily be the conclusion the Brightwater planners want drawn.
   "Let them know, for instance" she said, "how much is going to be paved with Brightwater vs. how much is going to be paved without Brightwater."
   Another member said, "Sixty million gallons per day of anything stinks." If you tell me it doesn't stink, I won't believe you. Odor control (is a big issue)."
   On the heels of that comment, another member remarked, "Yesterday was split pea soup, wasn't it?" referring to the soup du jour prepared by a local soup company. Odors from the factory waft far and wide, said more than one task force member. The fear is that should the Brightwater treatment plant emit odors, they, too, will hang in the air, given the topography of the Route 9 area, which has been described as a U-shaped valley or amphitheater.
   Two other task force members said facilitating a tour of the much-touted Vancouver, Wash., wastewater treatment plant, apparently known for being odor-free, would be useless.
   "The Vancouver and Route 9 sites have nothing in common," said one member.
   "It would be like comparing apples and oranges," said another. "There is no air movement through (the Route 9 site)."
   There were other concerns aplenty. One was for a potential spill, chemical or sewage. Someone called for low-impact development, one with zero discharge. There was mention of concern about bacterial or viral contamination. Would kids living nearby get sick?
   Would noise or vibrations from the plant carry throughout the area?
   Would traffic congestion be a problem, particularly during the construction phase?
   More than one member voiced a concern about property values. Would they drop?
   What about the plant design itself? What would its visual impact be? Would buffering efforts be adequate?
   Brightwater officials mentioned that they wanted to make the site a multi-use site. Hopefully, one person said, officials wouldn't resort to "locally undesirable land uses."
   Another wanted to be sure that the plant managed surface water properly, onsite.
   One person recommended the community get something in writing, a community agreement of sorts. Since the project spans so many years, different people in King and Snohomish counties could be involved, and without written documentation, promises made now could be forgotten years hence.
   Someone asked why the Route 9 site was even being considered, given that it would cost so much more to construct a plant there than at the Edmonds site.
   Someone else called for the term "mitigation" to be defined. He didn't want planners "to do things they were supposed to do and call it mitigation."
   One man said that the Route 9 community had a fundamental problem: "How can we bargain as effectively as the city of Edmonds City Council?" How can we get the Snohomish County folks to understand us? he said.
   After these and other concerns were aired, the task force facilitator called for a brainstorming session with respects to a Public Involvement Plan.
   Again the concept of a contract with the community was brought up, "on architecture, on open space, on odor control, on how to treat the community during construction" - a legal document, one man said. He also suggested that if, in fact, property values were to go down within a certain radius of the plant, perhaps county officials could grant lower taxes to these community members as a form of compensation.
   One person suggested holding meetings somewhere within the Maltby community. Come with a presentation to the people who will be most affected, he said.
   "Stand before them and open your kimono," he said.
   A Brightwater representative suggested a series of informational seminars, bringing experts into the community to talk about air quality, odor control, any topic of concern.
   Someone suggested a Brightwater spokesperson be, say, at the Maltby Cafe every two weeks. That way if community members had a question, they'd know where to come. That way people could build a body of knowledge. There would be a constant dialog. Surely throughout the course of the project things would change. By having a regular dialog, Brightwater officials would be there to explain the course of events.
   Another suggested renting an office, open part time, where community members could come to look at designs, view models, come with questions.
   One man suggested officials "Put before the community the positive things the plant could bring, things the community would be happy to have, things that make the community (believe) you are a good neighbor. Mention the lasting benefits ...," he said.
   Brightwater officials have numerous public involvement activities planned for 2002. Public scoping meetings will take place in May and June. Public meetings will be held in November on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
   The Community Task Forces will continue to meet and the public is invited to come to these to learn more about the project. Community Design Workshops are planned for this summer. Informational mailings, meetings and briefings will inform residents, businesses, landowners, and local jurisdictions that may be affected by potential conveyance corridors. The Executive Advisory Committee (formerly the Siting Advisory Committee) will continue to meet. There will be informational booths at six local fairs and festivals throughout the area.
   A speakers' bureau is available to talk with and respond to concerns of groups or organizations throughout the siting area in spring and summer. And don't forget to access the Brightwater Web site at http://www.dnr.metrokc.gov/wtd/brightwater.
   Brightwater officials encourage the public to become involved.