April 29, 2002
Opposition to a Route 9 Brightwater speaks out
by Jeanette Knutson
So who are these people who oppose a Route 9 Brightwater sewer plant? Are they any different from you or me?
Well, some are fairly affluent; some aren't. Some are newcomers to the area; others are longtime residents. Some own property adjacent to the proposed wastewater treatment facility; others live in the highlands above the proposed site. Many are professional people, though not all are. Most have a lot of money on the line in the way of property values. And all are concerned about what having a 111-acre sewer plant in the neighborhood will mean for them.
Jean Lee, who lives a half-mile from the proposed plant, says, "The people (in this neighborhood) are extremely reasonable." Such reasonableness, Lee fears, could put them at a disadvantage. In their search for "fairness" with respects to the project, they may "well be taken advantage of," said Lee.
"We do not want them to put (the treatment facility) here, but if they do, we want to be very well compensated for it. We want them to spend mitigation money for true mitigations. We don't want them to say, 'Look, we widened Route 9,' which needs to be done anyway, and call it a mitigation. We want them to spend the money it takes to (build a) completely odor-free (operation). We don't want mitigation money spent on something like that."
A core issue for many opposed to the site is the "taxation without representation" issue, or "sanitation without representation," as Charley Blaine, spokesperson for Save Little Bear Creek Coalition (SLBCC), a group numbering 350 to 400 members that opposes the Route 9 site, said, borrowing a phrase from his friends at Thrasher's Corner.
"Much of the resentment among residents around the Route 9 site," said Dave and April MacFie, members of SLBCC, "comes from the fact that the Brightwater project is planned and managed by King County with the intention of locating a "lulu" (locally undesired land use) in south Snohomish County, where the King County politicians are not subject to the will of the local citizenry. The Route 9 site is the most disadvantaged site in that we are in unincorporated Snohomish County; we have no mayor, no city council, no governmental body that is willing to represent our case. The Edmonds community does. Yes, we have hired an attorney to represent us. We have no other choice since no elected official from either county will champion our cause, our cause 'not to be subjected to this essential public facility.'"
Tim Stander and his mother live about a mile and a half north of the proposed plant site and have been paying Snohomish County taxes since 1957. Their complaint is that the plant is being sited in their county, and not in King County, which will receive the most benefit, they believe.
"The only reason (the Highway 9 site) is on the list," said Craig Pankow, who lives a mile and a half north of the proposed Route 9 site in the Highlands Vista/Montare development, "is because of politics. We are in unincorporated Snohomish with no political voice and that is why a site 23 miles from an outfall that costs more than any other site is being considered."
Alan Steffens, also a member of SLBCC, said, "I wrote several e-mails to Bob Drewel (the Snohomish County Executive), along with dozens of others in the group. He totally ignored them, never bothering to respond until five months later (once we were on the shorter list of two), having his aide send the same canned reply to all of us saying that he was very concerned about our neighborhood and Brightwater's impact. My opinion is that he's shaking hands with Ron Sims while he blatantly ignores us, serving Route 9 up to Brightwater on a platter. Our area is in unincorporated Snohomish County, so we have no city or, thanks to Drewel, county representation. We have no government representation at all! Edmonds and Bothell had the mayor and other city representatives speaking out and greasing the political skids against Brightwater in their area ... again, we have no one."
Plant odor emission is a major concern. The Larry Fluke family, who moved to a development called Montare up behind Highland Vista off of Highway 9 about a year ago, plays a smell game to guess what kind of soup is being made at the local soup factory. But they're not looking forward to the smell game if the Route 9 site is selected for the Brightwater plant.
Kathy Batts, whose family owns the 61-acre farm that is just north of the proposed facility, doesn't mind smelling split pea soup once in a while.
"But the onion soup is almost too much," said Batts. "Soup is one thing; sewage is another. What is it going to smell like when 65 million gallons of sewage are treated each day?
"Sure, the drawings show covered tanks, but when you ask them about it they say, 'They could be covered. We're not sure.'"
The prospect of having 65 million gallons of sewage a day in the vicinity is unsettling for Batts. So is the notion of increased incidence of bacteria and viruses in the air around sewage treatment plants that could represent a health risk for children and the elderly. Batts said she read about such illnesses in an EPA report. Brightwater officials have told her it must have been some old report. But she can't get the idea out of her head. You see, the Batts' property, Carousel Ranch, offers horse boarding, riding lessons, camps for kids, birthday parties.
"Here we are with all these kids around," she said.
Mike Zyskowski, who lives just north of the proposed Route 9 site, also worries about "increased health problems due to decreased exercise as a result of (staying indoors) trying to avoid unpleasant odors."
So does Dr. James MacRae, who lives northwest of the proposed site.
"I am concerned about the health ramifications to those living within the inversion layer from any noxious substances that might be released into the air.
"I am surprised that there has not been more of an expressed concern by the residents of Woodinville concerning the potential odor problem. I know that I have been able to detect the 'chicken soup day' ... as far away as 160th and Highway 405. At least I like the smell of chicken soup," said MacRae.
Jon Dickey, another would-be neighbor to the plant, already smells the recycle trucks warming up in the morning and the soup factory when weather conditions promote the so-called inversion. He has heard sewage treatment plants often emit noxious odors and is concerned for his wife who is asthmatic.
Gerald and Terri Farris, SLBCC members, said "The site is located in a valley which has a natural air inversion that (causes) air to flow close to the surface of the valley. This is displayed each summer by the vast number of hot air balloons that gently float from north to south over Woodinville. As these balloons glide over the proposed site, they have to continually do "burns" to stop from landing on Highway 9.
"This is also demonstrated by the fragrant smell from the soup plant ... Is Woodinville ready for additional smells drifting through town during its summer festivals?" ask the Farrises.
Don Gilbert and his wife live in the Summit at Highland Vista, which is just about one mile north of the proposed Brightwater site. He said, "The geography creates an air pocket so any odors will likely be trapped in the lowlands. However, a slight breeze will likely carry that odor up the hill to where we live.
"I don't believe that they have the technology to build a plant with no odor at this time. I do believe that better technology will be available in the future and it isn't entirely necessary to build a monolithic plant today. Research has shown that existing King County sewage plants could be upgraded to handle capacity over the next 10 to 20 years, after which time the "state of the art" for sewage treatment will make it feasible to create a greater number of smaller, less obtrusive treatment plants."
Jean Lee concurs.
"An extensive study was done that showed fixing broken and leaky pipes, building small satellite plants as needed would suffice. But for political reasons those ideas got axed," Lee said.
In fact, Charley Blaine challenges the assumption that the system upon which we rely today will run out of sewage capacity by 2010, a fact King County espouses frequently. He believes the big drivers of growth, Boeing and Microsoft, are not expanding at anticipated levels.
"(Brightwater officials) are not checking, testing, this," said Blaine.
Chardel Blaine, SLBCC member and Route 9 Community Taskforce member, said she is yet to be convinced Route 9 is a good choice for this project.
"The cost difference between the two sites is quite vast," said Chardel. There is a tremendous conveyance cost. Look at the ... maps. Route 9 doesn't make sense. They intend to pump raw material from Kenmore to Route 9, treat it, then pipe it from Route 9 to the outfall, crossing and/or disturbing (in her opinion, she adds) Swamp Creek, North Creek and every watershed between here and Puget Sound."
Says Don Gilbert, "It's ludicrous to spend the extra $500 million or more to build a tunnel to Puget Sound from the Highway 9 location. I think this proposal would be highly ridiculed if it got any airtime with King County voters, but for some reason it hasn't become an issue there, yet. At a time when they're closing parks because of lack of funding, I can't imagine voters would favor spending a half billion more than they need to for sewage."
"I am concerned," said Dr. James MacRae, "about the various public services that will have to be curtailed if this most expensive of sites is chosen for Brightwater. What could the county do with the extra $300-$400 million that would be saved placing the site elsewhere?" he queried.
"The Highway 9 site," said Craig Pankow, "was by far one of the most expensive of the sites being considered because the sewage has to be sent 23 miles to the outfall. We are in the middle of this huge budget crunch and King County, for political reasons, lists the Highway 9 site as one of the two possible locations. We believe that when all is said and done, this site would cost $2 billion to complete. Depending upon who you talk to, that may be up to $500 million more than Edmonds. We are closing parks and yet they would waste $500 million. Hard to fathom."
"If a private company were doing the work," said Jean Lee, "instead of the government, Route 9 wouldn't even be considered."
What if there would be a Spill?
Diane Thompson said, "Once does it." She was referring to what would happen if a liquid spill went into a stream. "Once it does, it kills the fish. There are no three strikes and you're out with this issue."
"About accidents and spills," said Jean Lee, "there are no guarantees what is going to happen. We need something documented, legalized. We are in unincorporated Snohomish County. Is Snohomish going to respond? Is King County?"
Terri Farris asked, "Woodinville would be the closest municipality to this project. Is the city ready to take on the extra infrastructure needed to respond to any emergency at this operational facility"?
Don Gilbert said, "There are no backup plans in the event of an earthquake or any other event that might cause a leak. Where will the runoff go? What will happen to property values in case of such an emergency? What about the effects on transportation, since Highway 9 is the arterial we all use to get to 520 and Woodinville? How will a disaster (or even construction) affect business in Woodinville? Remember that there are a lot of families up on this side of Maltby that do business in Woodinville, so this would affect more than just our area."
Craig Pankow, who has a background in insurance and risk management, offered some of his observations. He qualified his comments by saying he would need to know more details, "but at first blush, I see risk management problems, and (a few) my concerns would be as follows:
1. "Will there be some sort of double wall construction to protect our watersheds? A leak or a spill ... would seem to put tens of thousands of people at risk. This is a major item that needs to be considered for the entire 23-mile pipeline. Does Washington state law require such a double wall structure, or does it allow such a risk to our water system?
2. "How will the pipeline be monitored for leaks? King and Snohomish counties could incur liability that could literally bankrupt them if they were to allow a longtime leak to go undetected, or if there were a major spill. The length of the claim's tail would be brutal and anyone could sue for actual or alleged damages.
3. "How do they propose to make repairs? More importantly, how long will repairs take and how long could the site be shut down? If a sewer plant is such a critical thing for the counties, how could they even suggest that a conveyance system be used that could knock out the plant for extended periods of time? What if there was an earthquake that damaged a half-mile of pipe? Couldn't that take years to fix and cost hundreds of millions of dollars? How could a prudent risk manager even consider such a conveyance system? Seattle is in a major fault zone. In my opinion it is on the verge of recklessness and negligence if the conveyance system cannot be quickly and easily repaired.
4. "Given that Seattle is in such a quake zone, is the risk of damage greater to the pipes if they are buried underground at the depth they are talking about for the tunnel? Also, is the type of construction used on the underground pipes more or less susceptible to damage if a quake were to take place?
5. "What does the risk management department think of doing a large underground pipeline? What if there is a large spill and it is deemed the county negligently exposed the people to damages, how would their insurance respond? How the heck would they clean it up to meet state and federal environmental laws? How much would that cost? Does either King or Snohomish County have the pollution insurance in place to cover that exposure? (If they do now, that may change as the insurance market is really getting hard and pollution is a coverage that is getting difficult to find.) What are their liability limits? They had better be high, as the claims would be in the billions.
6. "Business interruption. The cost of this project cannot only be measured in terms of construction cost. Consideration must also be given to ongoing maintenance costs and emergency repair costs. In this case the question King County must answer is what is the plan in the event of a major catastrophe that damages the pipe and then compare Route 9 vs. Edmonds. They should also consider, at the Route 9 site, the difference between the deep tunnel option vs. the cut and fill option. ...The risk of a 23-mile pipeline (especially if it is deep tunnel) seems so great that I am a little surprised that it is even an option to consider. It seems the length of time to repair a deep underground tunnel is going to be significantly longer and more expensive than other options.
7. "In addition, a risk assessment needs to be done with respect to the tunneling equipment and the availability of the machines capable of doing this type of project. The prudent risk manager cannot just hope and pray something will not go wrong. What is King County's plan in the event of a loss of critical/nonreplaceable equipment? How much delay would take place to the project and how much additional costs would result if a critical piece of equipment were lost? There are not many machines in the world capable of doing what they want.
8. "Does either county have any type of business interruption insurance to cover a situation described above? ... They must keep in mind that there are two risks to consider, the cost to repair the damage and the cost to reroute sewage and/or do without. ..."
What about the Salmon?
According to Terri Farris, the sewer plant would not be as healthy for Little Bear Creek as the Brightwater info grams indicate. "The project would alter 79-plus acres of the watershed," he said, "immediately adjacent to Little Bear Creek. This would gravely impact the following aspects of the watershed into the creek: 1. the flow rate of runoff to the creek, 2. the temperature of the runoff into the creek, and 3. the makeup of the runoff into the creek.
"The above items individually are critical to the spawning of fish in any waterway, but to alter all three would have serious effects on the pristine spawning (here). One cannot alter such a large area of any watershed without changing the impacts of the spawning waters," said Farris.
Jon Dickey, who is a fisheries biologist who works at the University of Washington and is also a would-be neighbor to a Route 9 Brightwater, said "As a biologist, I am aware of studies conducted by University of Washington faculty and graduate students who have identified kokanee salmon in the Sammamish River drainage of which Little Bear Creek is a part. Kokanee salmon are a form of sockeye that no longer migrate out to the ocean, but remain in freshwater their entire life before spawning. Most of these stocks of kokanee are very low in numbers and any further reduction in numbers could further threaten losing them.
"My concerns are that the sewage treatment plant is to pump treated sewage out to the ocean. If this line were to rupture then what might happen to the salmon within Little Bear Creek? I have also heard proposals to release treated water into Little Bear Creek to enhance the fishery/habitat. The sockeye imprint on their natal stream so that they can return there to spawn when they are adults. By altering the chemistry of the water in the creek by either dilution and/or addition of other chemicals from the treatment plant, there may be an adverse affect on the migration/return of the adults to spawn in Little Bear Creek.
"King County stream census has shown Little Bear Creek to have a very healthy run of sockeye at the moment, so why jeopardize this?
"Treated water would also be higher in temperature and lower in dissolved oxygen. Increases in water temperature and decreases in dissolved oxygen have been shown to be detrimental to developing embryos in the gravel bed of the stream," said Dickey.
Jean Lee said having the sewage plant near the salmon stream would cause vibrations, noises and temperature changes to the creek, none of which, she believes, would be good for the salmon.
"I am not convinced there are people looking out for the salmon," said Lee. "They are using the stream as some sort of political ploy. The people who live near the site fear harm to the stream, and (Brightwater officials) say, 'We'll enhance it.'" Lee wonders if the county isn't just paying lip service to people who don't really understand if the county can or can't enhance the stream in the first place.
Was the Siting Process Fair?
Many question the fairness of the entire siting process. Larry Fluke said, "I really feel we have been deceived by the selection process and Ron Sims. Back in late 2000, early 2001, I clearly remember signing a petition at the Safeway at Thrashers Corner to not put the Brightwater site kitty corner from there. Little did I know at the time that there were nine sites and one of them was in the backyard of our new home. It was a total surprise to us that Highway 9 was even a candidate. I believe King County did an extremely poor job of informing the public of the initial review process."
Don Gilbert and his family live in an upscale community in terms of real estate values, which he believes will be negatively impacted if they put in a sewage treatment plant.
"In spite of this," he said, "we have never been contacted by anyone from Brightwater regarding this site. King County is railroading this through because there hasn't been any opposition since they only notified (he believes) less than 40 families surrounding the site. What opposition there is now (he fears) has come too late."
It's a question of due process said Craig Pankow. "The whole selection process has been a complete political mess. King County is in charge of the selection process, so, surprise, both sites are in Snohomish. This has truly been a charade led by Ron Sims. Edmonds has much more political pull and much greater resources to fight this project. We have limited resources and must fight the battle on our own," said Pankow.
"The whole process bugs me," said Kathy Batts. "I have a feeling it's a done deal, that (Brightwater officials) are just going through the motions.
"I figure it will be a huge feather in Ron Sims' cap if he gets this thing built outside of King County. And my (Snohomish) County representatives are going to get some sort of dividend from it. They're not fighting it at all," said Batts.
"I feel like we're this hick town," said Jean Lee, "that's getting a toxic waste dump. ...Why are they buying so much land when it only takes 25 to 35 acres for a treatment plant? Sure they talk of parks and beautifying. I'm suspicious. Do they have other ideas to use that land? And don't talk about ballparks. They're closing ballparks in the area, and now they want to give us a ballpark? And an education center? I don't care about this. An education center is not a reason to put a sewer treatment plant here," said Lee.
Sentiments run high on the topic of a Route 9 Brightwater. Other issues of importance to the communities who could be affected by the facility are the traffic problems construction would bring, the inability to camouflage the plant for the folks who live above the site, the noise the plant would bring, the hit property values have already taken and will continue to take if the plant is sited at Route 9, the fact that the site is in a 100-year flood plain (believe some), and that such a plant could change the rural quality of the area.
According to Dave Hulten, if the facility were sited on Highway 9, the community would lose its Grange building, home to 4-Hers, Girl Scouts, square dancers and start-up churches.
Diane Thompson fears the whole process has not been thought through. There are technological and ecological aspects that definitely need to be studied, she believes.
Chardel Blaine said, "There are a lot of unanswered questions."
Her husband Charley characterizes the project as "very expensive, with tricky permitting and loopy engineering. King County is asking everybody to bear the risk with very little upside," said Charley.
By the way, check out the www.noroute9sewerplant.com Web site. It's very informative.