Northwest NEWS

December 2, 2002

Local News

UBCCC discusses sewage legacy

by Jeanette Knutson
   Though 26 citizens signed in at last Tuesday night's (Nov. 26) Upper Bear Creek Community Council (UBCCC) meeting, it seemed as if more were present.
   Perhaps this is because the discussion was so lively, given the topic of the evening, the so-called Brightwater Sewage Treatment Plant. A 36-million-gallon-a-day wastewater treatment facility may well be built on a 109-acre site immediately north of Woodinville. It should be finished by 2010 and is expected to process 54 million gallons of wastewater a day by 2040.
   This, of course, will happen if King County Executive Ron Sims has his way. Executive Sims anointed the State Route 9 site his "preferred site" last August. It is he who will make the final decision on the plant's location sometime in 2003, after the completion of the final Environmental Impact Statement.
   Also under consideration is a 53-acre site located in Edmonds at the Unocal tank farm.The Upper Bear Creek Community Council represents some 22,000 people who live in unincorporated King County between the Sammamish and the Snoqualmie valleys, said Geoff Clayton, UBCCC member. Clayton said if a $1.4 billion project is going to be built in what is essentially the Council's backyard, they want to see to it that the sewer plant be "a darn good neighbor."
   Clayton explained that the Bear Creek Basin has headwaters that extend into Snohomish County, running alongside the proposed Route 9 sewer plant site. These waters, he said, are the preeminent system in King County for returning Chinook salmon.
   That the system remain pristine is important to the Council, and many others.
   What they would like Brightwater officials to do is take conscientious efforts to protect these waters, by purchasing some 192 acres of forested land within the basin, soon to be put on the auction block by the Department of Natural Resources.
   The fear is that if the land ends up in the hands of developers, they, in turn, will press Snohomish County to move the Urban Growth Boundary in order to accommodate housing developments, sprawl.
   Clayton and others would like to see the land placed in some sort of conservancy to protect it into the future.
   What it boils down to is mitigation money.
   Clayton, who one must surmise was speaking on behalf of the entire UBCCC, would like Brightwater officials to spend $3-4 million to protect these 192 acres, which lie "a stone's throw" (three-quarters to one mile) to the east of the intended Route 9 site, according to Clayton.
   But not everyone present at the meeting wanted to talk about mitigation. For some, the topic was, well, premature.
   Neither Tim Joseph nor Linda Gray, both of Sno-King Environmental Alliance, an anti-Route 9 group, could understand how the cost of a plant on the Sound, in Edmonds, could be so close to the cost of a plant inland, near Woodinville, a plant that would require some 23 miles of pipeline.
   Michael Popiwny, siting and mitigation manager for the project, said a great deal of dirt had to be removed from the Edmonds site that does not need to be removed from the Route 9 site. That extra dirt removal accounted for the costs being so similar, he said.
   And should the Edmonds site require a lid, something locals have been insisting upon, that would make its cost even higher than Route 9's.
   Joseph and Gray also questioned truck traffic impacts at the Route 9 site.
   Gray maintains State Route 9 traffic is already at its worst.
   How can Route 9 support 1,049 daily construction truck trips or 144 daily operation trips, they wonder.
   Hummel said there was a Route 9 road project planned that would widen the road alongside the proposed plant.
   John Anderson said to Hummel, "Over the years we've all periodically heard of failures, where millions of gallons of sewage get dumped. Have you addressed where (such spills) will go?"
   Hummel said engineers have devised a failsafe plan, a pipeline - to be used in case of a catastrophic event - that would release sewage into Lake Washington.
   Hummel said there will be a backup power supply. Furthermore, the influent tunnels will be built larger than necessary so that flow can be stored in them in case of an emergency. He also said the system will have backup pumps.
   But the bottom line is there will be a pipeline, which operates not upon reliance of pumps but rather upon gravity, which will carry emergency overflows - according to Section 3.8 of the draft Environmental Impact Statement - "into either the Sammamish River or Lake Washington."
   One citizen wanted to know what guarantees the community had that Brightwater officials wouldn't expand the plant someday if development in the area warranted it.
   Popiwny said, "This plant is not designed to serve an expanded urban growth area."
   Clayton offered advice on the topic, based upon what he knew about the WestPoint Treatment Plant in Magnolia. He suggested the neighborhood enter into a contract, a binding legal agreement, with Brightwater officials. Such a contract would guarantee the plant would not see further expansion.
   One young man asked if King County had a contingency plan for funding the plant, should monies dedicated to its construction shrivel up or be cut.
   Popiwny explained that the county would be issuing bonds, which would be repaid using connection fees. Ninety-five percent of the cost will be paid for by new users' service fees, he said.
   Tim Joseph asked if King County considered new hookup fees to be those as far back as June 2001. He also asked if the fee per hookup would be $9,000.
   Popiwny thought the connection fee was closer to $7,000. He did not address whether the starting date for the fee would be June 2001.
   The young man asking the original question still wanted to know if the county had assurances they'd have the money to complete the plant, even in a recession. He said after the meeting that he was thinking about how Sound Transit money had disappeared. He just wondered if Brightwater money could do the same.
   Popiwny said the facility had a dedicated revenue stream.
   Glen Jones said he was a member of a group evaluating the draft Environmental Impact Statement and found it to be somewhat weak and unconvincing.
   "The public perception is that you're (going to be building this sewage treatment plant) on the fly," said Jones. "Would you characterize this facility as unique for not being built on a big river or ocean"?
   Popiwny said not at all. Think of all the interior states that are not on the ocean, he said.
   People in the audience whispered, "But they're (built) on large lakes or rivers."
   Nancy Stafford asked how responsibility for the plant was going to be split, since it was built by King County in Snohomish County.
   Popiwny said the facility would be built and maintained by King County. He said King County had been treating wastewater from a large portion of South Snohomish County for nearly 40 years.
   One woman hadn't heard the Route 9 site was Executives Sims' "preferred site." She was given a fistful of literature, into which she promptly buried her nose.