Northwest NEWS

September 2, 2002

Local News

Group not on cloud nine over Route 9 Brightwater

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Moms and dads - many of them professionals - boomers and retirees, 80 in all, gathered in the Church of Christ, Woodinville, recently to learn about possible impacts a 36 million-gallon-a-day sewer plant could have on their lives.
   The plant, Brightwater, slated to be online in 2010 and working at a capacity of 54 million gallons a day by 2040, will be just 1.8 miles from the northern gateway to Woodinville, on State Route 9.
   Readers must understand that the final selection for the wastewater treatment plant has not been made, nor will it be made until mid-2003. Though King County Executive Ron Sims prefers the Woodinville site, the site selection process continues. Environmental and technical studies are being made at the Route 9 site, as well as at the Edmonds Unocal site, also under consideration.
   The majority of those in attendance at the Save Little Bear Creek Coalition/Just the Facts (SLBCC) meeting live within a 2-mile radius of what has been dubbed Sims' "preferred alternative site." Most of their homes bear Woodinville addresses.
   "What are people going to think about," said SLBCC member Tim Joseph, "when you say 'Woodinville' (if the plant comes here)? They're not going to think about the wineries, the concerts on the grass, Molbak's and all the wonderful Christmas shopping. They'll think first about our sewage plant. Is that what you want?
   "I am very concerned about the city my family fell in love with 10 years ago. (The aquifer over which this plant could be built supplies) the water my family drinks. (The air in the neighborhood of the proposed plant) is the air my family breathes. This area is a wonderful, beautiful spot. I'd like to have it stay that way," said Joseph.
   SLBCC member Charley Blaine said, "This sewer plant has the potential of totally changing the character (of our neighborhoods). No matter how well or how poorly it is designed, a plant this size in this space (is not appropriate)."
   One audience member said many believe a sewer plant will stop growth. She believes it will create even more growth.
   Audience member Janet Miller said, "We're easy to destroy (because we're unincorporated and lack representation.) Urban development is coming at us on all sides."
   The Process
   Having little political representation throughout the siting process was a recurrent theme at the meeting. The topic did not appear on the meeting agenda, but speakers and audience members returned to it frequently. It was important to them.
   "There must be some peculiarity about the politics around here," said Joseph. When Edmonds heard they were on the shortlist of candidates for the billion-and-a-half-dollar sewer plant, he said, the city went berserk. There was all kinds of activity. Money for a defense fund was squirreled away. The mayor bolted into action.
   "It's funny," said SLBCC member Don Fleming, "that the Mayor of Woodinville remains mum on the issue. The only person we have supporting us is State Rep. Al O'Brien (District 1)."
   Indeed, the man making the final decision on where the plant "lands" is Executive Sims. But residents surrounding the proposed Route 9 site cannot retaliate at the ballot box for Sims' final selection since they live in Snohomish County, even though many of them have a Woodinville address. Yet having that Woodinville address is cold comfort because the area in which they live is unincorporated; it's not really part of the City of Woodinville. Nor does or can (apparently) the Snohomish County Council help the group. Their Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax has told the group he must remain neutral. He cannot voice an opinion on the siting procedure or else he must recuse himself from playing a role in the county's permitting process.
   Steve Dickson, assistant to the director of Snohomish County Public Works and a speaker at the meeting, said, "Jeff Sax will hold meetings to hear what people have to say. The Council intends to be present."
   Dickson also asked audience members to recall Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel's comments the day of the "preferred alternative" announcement.
   "Executive Drewel doesn't have a preference (for the location of the plant) because all the facts are not in," said Dickson. "... Executive Drewel does support your having a part in the siting (process). (He) is someone you vote for. And we (Dickson and Judith Stoloff of Snohomish County's Department of Planning and Development Services) are here representing Jeff Sax."
   Dickson also said Snohomish County would be hiring a consultant to review the technical data - and King County will pay for it.
   SLBCC member Linda Gray wanted assurances that the consultant would be an independent person, not tied in anyway to the sewer plant, not someone trying to figure out how to make this (site) work.
   Someone else asked that the credentials of the consultant be made public.
   State Rep. Al O'Brien spoke to the group, saying he recently had lunch with Christie True, Brightwater project manager.
   O'Brien brought True documents that he downloaded from SLBCC's Web site (www.noroute9sewerplant.com) to demonstrate the concern of the people and their efforts to date.
   "I was instrumental," said O'Brien, "in seeing that the pipeline was not run through Mountlake Terrace. I talked to Executive Sims ... and I will use the same dedication here to see that you don't get jammed. If all the issues you have are not addressed, I will be talking to the Executive again."
   An audience member rose to speak. "We've lived here for 31 years and we're very disturbed we haven't had any representation."
   Audience member Miller said she had little faith in Snohomish County.
   "I'll tell you what," she said. "We are lacking essential facilities here, but not this one. We are lacking schools and roads and post offices and sheriff's protection."
   Gray said SLBCC members were seeking representation elsewhere. They have contacted the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Department of Ecology, the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Sierra Club, as well as their federal representatives.
   Charley Blaine said, "I am frustrated by a process that from the start looked like it was set up to create this result, (a plant located in a spot that has little political redress)."
   Executive Sims, with an eye toward delivering a wastewater facility on time and on budget, said in his "preferred alternative" pronouncement of Aug. 13 that the selection process had been "comprehensive and thorough." He said King County had 300 meetings, received 1,200 scoping comments and produced thousands of pages of documents, many available to the public on the Internet. He said that he felt the process was fair and open.
   The Aquifer
   The Cross Valley Water District Web site indicates it has 5,400 customers. The Cross Valley Aquifer from which district patrons draw their water is a federally designated sole source aquifer. This means it provides 50 percent or more of its drinking water from a definite aquifer, and contamination of the aquifer would pose significant hazard to public health, and there are no economically feasible alternative sources of drinking water.
   SLBCC members say, at Route 9, King County would be siting a sewer plant directly over the Cross Valley Aquifer. The county acknowledges this.
   Yet a King County document entitled "Route 9 Alternative & the Cross Valley Aquifer" indicates, "However, if this site were selected, most of the facilities would be built outside and to the south of the aquifer."
   But SLBCC members think such a siting doesn't make sense.
   Joseph said, "I don't think we should build a sewer plant over an aquifer, just as I wouldn't let my children play in the street," he said.
   SLBCC member Mark Sakura fears either the construction process or a spill after the plant was online could contaminate the aquifer. He sited five sewage spills from the King County wastewater treatment system since 1998 that leaked a total of 60,061,400 gallons of wastewater.
   "How are you going to control this?" Sakura asked.
   "The Cross Valley Water District doesn't have every single well on the aquifer charted," Sakura said. They weren't required to map wells prior to the 20's or 30's, he said. "But every single well point on the aquifer could be a possible point of contamination."
   Sakura also said the City of Woodinville has two backup wells, PW-1 and Pw-2, on the Cross Valley Aquifer.
   Woodinville Water District Manager Bob Bandarra said, "The well near Wellington Hills (PW-1) never panned out. There was not enough flow. The well at the district offices (Pw-2) has a larger capacity and could be used as an emergency backup source in the event of a major disaster."
   Bandarra pointed out that using the well at the district's main facility would require permission from the Department of Ecology and the Department of Health. The well is not set up to pump. They'd have to bring a pump in, bring in an electrical board, test and perhaps treat the water. And then the water could not be discharged into the distribution system. The district envisions, in an emergency scenario, people bringing water bottles to the well to fill up or a district tanker truck parked at some central location to dispense water to persons bringing containers.
   Bandarra also said that should the Tolt River Watershed (which furnishes Woodinville Water District's water supply), through some catastrophe, become unusable, the Eastside supply line could, depending on where the disaster occurred, switch to the Cedar River Watershed supply.
   King County doesn't think the Cross Valley Aquifer will pose problems for the Brightwater project.
   Brightwater documents state, "In relation to the movement of groundwater in the Cross Valley Aquifer, the entire treatment plant site is at a lower elevation than and down gradient from the Cross Valley production wells. ... Because groundwater flows away from the wellheads and toward the proposed Brightwater site, there are no risks to the Cross Valley drinking water supply from Brightwater."
   SLBCC members believe otherwise.
   "An aquifer is not a river," said Gray. "Capillary action will cause the entire aquifer to become contaminated regardless of flow directions."
   Other issues
   The group has grave concerns about a Route 9 treatment plant. They worry about odors hanging in the area's complex air shed. They worry about the fact that Stockpot Soups, immediately adjacent to the proposed Brightwater site, had to lay 18-inches of gravel fill in order to prevent the factory's foundation from sinking. They worry that insufficient testing was done to determine whether lateral slide and liquefaction are a problem on the site. They worry about traffic congestion in the area since Route 9 is a significant commuter corridor. They worry about the construction technique of de-watering and whether or not the process will lower their water table. They worry that the Cross Valley Aquifer extends further south than what Brightwater documents show, and that de-watering could compromise (drain) the Little Bear Creek.
   Concerns abound and, so far, assurances are lacking.