Northwest NEWS

May 27, 2002

Front Page

Creek protectionists favor Route 9 Brightwater

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   It might seem odd to some that salmon/stream advocates would line up on the side of sewer plant proponents, that stewards of the environment would actually welcome a Route 9 Brightwater sewage treatment facility to their neighborhood - next to a pristine stream, Little Bear Creek. Are not habitat protectionists diametrically opposed to things like mega wastewater treatment plants?
   Apparently not.
   Members of the Little Bear Creek Protective Association (LBCPA) can offer dozens of reasons why their interests mesh with the concept of a Route 9 Brightwater.
   Greg Stephens, president of LBCPA, said, "It's because technology has come a long way from the sewer plants of our youth, the ones (we) could smell for miles away. After seeing the Vancouver, Wash., sewer plant and the benefits that can come with it, I realized that (a Route 9 Brightwater plant) could give us benefits in our lifetime that we would never see in this area."
   The "benefits" to which Stephens refers would come by way of sought-after mitigation dollars, 40 million of them.
   Debby Nicely, LBCPA board member, acknowledges concerns have been raised as to how the promised mitigation money would be spent.
   As Nicely sees it, "This money has nothing to do with the building of the plant or the roads around it. It is entirely for the local community to spend as they see fit to enhance their community. We could use the money for the acquisition of land around (Little Bear Creek) to protect habitat, for the creation of parks, and for an environmental education center on the property. ... Forty million dollars can go pretty fast," she said.
   Said Stephens, "By using some of the mitigation money, we could buy parks, soccer fields, Little League ball fields, specifically to replace the one lost when Stockpot Soups was built five or six years ago. Forty million dollars could buy a lot of habitat ... parks. Additionally, we could build a watershed resources education center, to be used by all school children of King and Snohomish counties, similar to the one built in Vancouver that serves children of Clark County and Portland."
   Still referring to the mitigation money, Stephens said, "Parks, salmon, education. This is a line in the sand I've drawn, right or wrong. Pete Rose and I have our respective professional opinions on the topic of mitigation, and it is a friendly contest that I am sure salmon will win."
   Joyce Hoikka, who founded LBCPA back in 1978, sees a Route 9 Brightwater as the lesser of two evils. She'd really prefer that the land be used to create a park, one without a treatment plant.
   "I'd rather see it as a huge park, but that won't happen," Hoikka said. "So I'm choosing the lesser of two evils. Something is going to go there. All in all, visually, (Brightwater) would look better than a bus barn - paved acreage with yellow buses sitting around. From the standpoint of the environment, the (treatment) plant is less risky. With the bus barn, there would be air pollution, traffic, acres pavement that would cause serious problems for Little Bear Creek."
   Nicely agreed.
   "If or when this site is chosen, it absolutely ends the threat of a Northshore School District bus barn. If it's not chosen, I don't know if we can defend ourselves against it," she said.
   "Two hundred diesel buses starting up at 5 a.m. and warming up for a half hour, as diesel buses need to do, that would be serious air pollution.
   "Of course our original concern is for the creek," said Nicely. "It's the best one around, with six different species of fish - excellent habitat. ... But the bus barn property is sloped and, as it is, runoff goes across Highway 9 when it rains hard in the winter. If the property were completely paved, the runoff would go much faster. And if cars or buses were parked there (at one time five warehouses la parking lots were proposed for the site), the runoff could contain oil, gasoline, transmission fluid, what have you."
   According to Nicely, the creek depends on the water it gets during the winter, but the water doesn't whoosh down to the creek: It seeps down gently through the course of the winter.
   "With pavement, you wouldn't have the gradual release of water, which would destroy the hydrologic system of the stream flow," she said.
   " ... The people who worry about the treatment plant are not thinking about the alternative," said Nicely.
   Nicely said not thinking about the alternative is also true when it comes to some people's fear of plummeting property values due to a sewage plant in the neighborhood.
   "There are some who say," said Nicely, "that removing industry from the area is a slap in the face to corporations. But you have to ask yourself, wouldn't a green park with an attractive building, with quiet - nothing coming in or going out - be better than an industrial park, with traffic, lighting at night and fumes? It's clear industrial use would not enhance property values, and the other would."
   "Too many people," said Stephens, "are only thinking about themselves and their property values. They're not thinking about the future, their children's future, their grandchildren's future."
   He figures a park-like environment that a Route 9 Brightwater could provide would serve to increase property values.
   Said Hoikka, "We need to preserve open spaces, natural acreages. We need to protect creeks and rivers, leave the natural beauty. We can't live in total development. ... I don't want it to become like Los Angeles here, development on top of development."
   The biggest hot-button issue about the wastewater treatment facility is not decreased property values, however. It's smell.
   "When I tell friends," said Nicely, "we may be getting a sewage treatment plant across the street, they say, 'Oh my God!'
   "But Greg (Stephens) has gone down to the Vancouver plant. They have zero odor complaints there. It's located on a lake. It's as clean as a whistle. It's even available for events. They have achieved absolutely no odor. And if they can do it there, they can do it again here. I understand a top technician for odor control is already on the Brightwater payroll.
   "It's true. We do have a situation here like a miniature Los Angeles, where smells and weather get stuck here. ... (Nonetheless), I am absolutely confident that there will be no odors.
   "Greg said when you walk into the building (in Vancouver) where the sewage gets treated, you get kind of sucked through the door," said Nicely.
   "I (detected) no odor," said Stephens, "outside their negative pressure airlock buildings. I am convinced that odor control can be done to where there is no odor outside the plant.
   "Later in the summer, King County will be offering citizens bus tours to the Vancouver plant so they can see that it can be done with beautiful park-like grounds and an attractive building to hide the true function of the facility."
   And in an odor-free fashion, he added.
   See Route 9 Proponents Part II in next week's paper.