Northwest NEWS

August 19, 2002

Front Page

Sims wants Grace (for regional sewer plant)

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   King County Executive Ron Sims wanted to be candid. He wanted to let the people know what he was thinking. So, last week he announced his preferred alternative system for the billion-dollar-plus wastewater treatment project called Brightwater.
   If Sims had his druthers, he'd see the sewer plant built on the State Route 9 site in Snohomish County, just north of Woodinville. He'd see the plant's conveyance pipes run, via deep-tunneling, under Northeast 195th and 205th streets in King County, leading to an outfall on Puget Sound near Point Wells on the King/Snohomish border.
   His choice, he said, would allow both counties to shoulder a portion of the burden of this essential public facility.
   Speaking to the Brightwater project Executive Advisory Committee last week, Sims delineated his reasons for favoring a plant east of Route 9 at 228th Street Southeast:
   The Route 9 site is twice the size of the Unocal alternative in Edmonds. The 111-acre site will afford ease in engineering and construction, allow for a landscaped buffer, odor-control options and other mitigation measures.
   The Route 9 site will provide greater flexibility for changes in flow volumes and greater potential for water reuse.
   The location provides opportunities to clean up a polluted site, enhance nearby streams and wetlands.
   Projected costs for the Unocal site were under-estimated. Dirt removal alone could add another $200 million to the Edmonds site price tag, making the cost of a "Unocal Brightwater" nearly equal to that of a "Route 9 Brightwater." Moreover, building a structural lid on the proposed ferry terminal in Edmonds could add another $260 million to the project.
   Said Sims, "I want to be open about my initial preferences based on the technical information studied to date and the thousands of comments we have received."
   Sims' initial preferences, it must be stated, are just that. They are not the final decision on the Brightwater project. At least not yet, anyway.
   The Edmonds Unocal site is not off the hook. Technicians and scientists will continue to study both proposed plant sites and systems. And should, for some reason, the Route 9 site be found unsuitable, the Edmonds location will bear the "preferred site" mantle that the Route 9 site now dons.
   Furthermore, a draft environmental impact study is due out later this year. Once issued, the public has 45 days to respond to it. In mid-2003 a final environmental study will be issued and Sims, in consultation with Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, will announce the final system package.
   Drewel addressed the same Executive Advisory Committee last week, saying he had no preferred option for the Brightwater plant location.
   "... (T)hat decision needs to be based on sound, objective facts. ... We are early in the environmental review process, and there is still a long way to go. ... Snohomish County will continue our watchdog role and intensify our scrutiny of the many critical technical issues that are coming to the fore.
   "... I have promised that Snohomish County is committed to a fair, impartial and complete project-review oversight role. That is our legal and ethical responsibility, and the people who will be affected by this decision deserve nothing less.
   " ... I firmly believe that citizens have the right to ask tough questions and get complete and comprehensible answers from King County and its Brightwater team. Including questions and answers about: 1. Odor control and air flow around the proposed sites, 2. Appearance and design of the facility, 3. Impacts on traffic and urban growth, 4. Geotechnical and groundwater issues relating to both the plant sites and the conveyance routes, and 5. Environmental impacts on air, land and water," said Drewel.
   Pete Rose, Woodinville City Manager and a member of the Executive Advisory Committee, queried the executives as to how the folks whose worst fears were realized with the preferred alternative announcement were going to be heard.
   The answer: We will be sending out information, people can asked to be put on our e-mail lists, there are two conveyance meetings yet, community task force meetings continue, there will be Draft Environmental Impact Study hearings, plus the Brightwater group will go out to speak to any group who invites them.
   Rose admitted that a Route 9 plant site would make Woodinville "a Brightwater downwinder." He urged the executives to go beyond the lowest common denominator, to make the plant that national model Brightwater staff talks about.
   "We're going to have to live with it," said Rose. "At worst we'd like it to be transparent; at best, an asset."
   Rose, commenting two days after the preferred site announcement and speaking as chief of staff, not to express City policy, said, "Considering that every city must have wastewater treatment and the Growth Management Act gives broad sway to siting essential regional facilities, if it is going to come here we must insist that it be the absolutely best neighbor that a wastewater plant has ever been. Failure in this need is not an option."
   When asked if the City of Woodinville stood to gain from a Route 9 plant, Rose responded, "There better be something in it for the host area, but let's be clear about this. My advice to the (Woodinville City) Council will be that mitigation is secondary. If the plant has to come here, it has to be done right and there is only one chance to get it right - that is when it is built. If it is not done right, particularly from the air quality and visual standpoint, no amount of sugar plums will make the greater vicinity of the plant a good place to live. I believe that is an essential issue for the Woodinville area. Once we are convinced that it won't smell, won't harm the water quality and is a visually pleasing design, then we can talk about amenities. The City of Woodinville and the Route 9 area residents have a right and a duty to be skeptical and insistent on guarantees all through the process that Metro will make good on the promises of modern technologies, that this will be a new age plant that can be a good neighbor.
   "The Grace site - let's call the area by how it is known locally - is very unusual in topography and land use. I have tried to explain to King County that it is dealing with a two-headed entity, one urban and one rural, all in the 98072 zip code. They will have to be very creative to understand the needs of each and to satisfy them enough to gain acceptance of this facility. The Grace industrial area is a thumb of urbanization sticking up into an area of rural residential. Woodinville is trying to build its new city with a strong balance of economic vitality and residential quality of life. The Grace area is essential to that balance. Folks living in the Route 9 area moved there looking for a high quality of life ranging on a continuum from the best in suburban living to a "get away from it all" bucolic lifestyle. The placement of a huge regional wastewater facility in the area poses immediate challenges for both viewpoints. The essence of our challenge is seeing how this can be turned into an opportunity, how things that can hurt the area can be eliminated and holding King County's feet to the fire on its promises," said Rose.
   Corrine Hensley, representing the Pilchuck Audubon Society on the Executive Advisory Committee, expressed concern that a Route 9 plant could spur growth in the area. She sought assurances that the surrounding area would stay rural.
   Sims said he would work to prevent a push on the urban boundary, that the county might have to use some mitigation money to buy land to insure growth doesn't happen.
   Carolyn Duncan, spokesperson for the Brightwater project, said in a phone interview after the announcement, "We don't have any pieces of land identified but would buy land as part of mitigation to probably protect Little Bear Creek or to create a buffer around the plant."
   State Route 9, the commuter corridor that runs along the proposed site, is slated for widening if Referendum 51, the statewide transportation plan to appear on the November ballot, passes. If it doesn't pass, Sims said in a press conference, "That will be up to Snohomish County."
   Jim Hammond, intergovernmental relations advisor to Bob Drewel, said if Ref. 51 fails, unless the people of the community see some kind of transportation need - which could be addressed through mitigation -Snohomish County had no plans at present to do road work in the area.
   Debby Nicely, member of the Little Bear Creek Protective Association, was delighted by Sims's Route 9 selection.
   " ... When I heard Ron Sims speak ... I was so impressed by the extent to which he covered all the bases and really examined things closely and intelligently. ... I just thought this was an excellent presentation, a very, very well done job, as, I think, Brightwater generally has shown itself to be, very capable and thorough and open and forthcoming toward the neighborhood."
   About the Cross Valley Aquifer, after considerable discussion at a recent design workshop, Nicely felt "particularly reassured that an item of this importance was going to be thoroughly researched and pursued before any possibly dangerous digging might take place."
   Another person pleased with Sims' choice who wished to remain anonymous said a plant at the Route 9 site could actually improve the area. Cleaning up the leaking car fluids will benefit the environment. If it's done right, land values around the site could actually go up.
   But not all those who live near the Route 9 site were appeased by the executives' pronouncements.
   Linda Gray expressed "complete and utter disappointment in the process, that (Brightwater planners) are not looking at the facts, that they can make a decision with so little information."
   Gray and five other opponents of the Route 9 site, members of Save Little Bear Creek Coalition (SLBCC), met with Sims the day before he announced his selection in order to dissuade him from making what they believed to be a premature announcement. They questioned whether engineering data was complete enough to allow for a proper choice.
   It is their contention that too little scientific research has been done on the Route 9 site, particularly with respect to the Cross Valley Aquifer and its protection, the problematic air shed under which the region lies, the site's susceptibility to lateral slide and liquefaction, the proposed construction technique of "de-watering," the traffic impacts and deep tunneling concerns. The group is also frustrated with the lack of representation from county and state representatives.
   Tim Joseph, also an SLBCC member, thought Sims' justification of the Route 9 option was lacking in detail.
   "Larger? What a great addition to the thinking on this matter," wrote Joseph in an e-mail as a response to a question about his thoughts on the Route 9 selection. "Greater flexibility? No detail is supplied. This would have been a nice place for a graphic indicating alternative flows, redirections and non-potable water usage. ... Environmental opportunities? This seems to be an issue that is in dispute with regard to de-watering, the aquifer, and the effect of deep tunnels. (Edmonds original cost-estimate too low)? Funny the costs are announced at this meeting with little detail, just a comment about 'more dirt to be removed,' and that seems to mitigate the cost differential issue. I would like to see Brightwater, in an effort toward transparency, release information about cost that is as detailed as possible," wrote Joseph.
   Mark Sakura, another SLBCC member, said the day Sims announced the Route 9 site was a bad day for Snohomish County.
   "But good can come out of bad," said Sakura. His group is hoping for more media focus on their concerns. The group will redouble its investigative research efforts, he said.
   "There were too many omissions and inaccuracies in documents provided by Brightwater staff, particularly on the SR 9 site," said Sakura.