Northwest NEWS

December 9, 2002

Business

Speakers at public hearing see sewage plant as threat
by Jeanette Knutson
Staff Writer
Outside Woodinville’s Hollywood Schoolhouse last Tuesday night, Dec. 3, forty or more picketers lined the intersection waving “Woodinville not Sewageville” signs in protest of a billion-dollar-plus sewage treatment plant proposed for a site roughly 1.5 miles from downtown Woodinville.
Inside, it looked like a holiday party at a country inn. An elegant yet woodsy Christmas tree was swathed in shiny gauze and trimmed with dozens of small reproduction pheasants. Stairway banisters were decked with garland and more birds. Platters of fragrant cookies and an array of soft beverages were laid out for the taking.
But this was no party.
It was the first of four public hearings sponsored by King County in accordance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The county released its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recently, which analyzes environmental impacts of building and operating the oft’ discussed wastewater treatment plant, Brightwater.
The public - clearly not in a festive mood - came to testify before the community and King County officials as part of the SEPA process, which allows for public comment.
What they had to say about the 109-acre mega-plant intended for a site along Route 9, just north of Woodinville, wasn’t so much “new” as it was powerful. Speakers were forthright, insightful - sometimes humorous, sometimes angry, always respectful.
“Where’s the beef?” asked Mark Sakura, a member of the Just the Facts group. “After reading the EIS, we have more questions than answers. ... There’s not enough information for people to express their concerns.”
Clayton Fleming, who, to use his own words, “lives a stone’s throw from Ron Sims’ ‘preferred site,’” said, “Even a layman like myself can see (the document) has a large amount of gaping holes and a large amount of caveats.”
Woodinville City Manager Pete Rose agreed.
According to an e-mail written after the public hearing, Rose wrote, “The most on-point comment was the one that said the (draft) EIS was not providing all the answers. The (draft) EIS has done a decent job of identifying the impacts, but where the exact method of overcoming the impact is to be determined by the design study or the design, they use standard comments of ‘meeting all applicable codes,’ ‘meeting best management practices’ or ‘using proven construction techniques.’
“That does not fill folks with confidence, because if the (final) EIS passes muster, the exact answer won’t be known for a few years.
“By the same token, if all commenters do a good job of identifying concerns, King County may be up to the challenge and the (final) EIS may answer everything - we just don’t know at this point.”
Rondi Olson said, “It’s not science that is driving the decision (as to where the sewer plant will be located), it’s politics.”
Sakura said, “Let’s go to best science (to make this decision), not best management practices or best politics.”
Glen Jones relayed a conversation he had with his 11-year-old son, who was getting ready for a soccer game. In sum, the conversation went something like this.
“Dad, why does King County want to build a sewage plant over our aquifer?” asked the son. “Can they guarantee there won’t be any spills”?
“No,” said Jones, “they won’t guarantee there won’t be spills.”
“Then why don’t they build it somewhere else?” asked the young boy.
Mark Moulton was impressed by the wisdom of this 11-year-old.
“If an 11-year-old kid can figure out that (a plant in Edmonds) would have half the cost, half the distance (to pump sewage) and half the opportunity for problems, (why can’t King County)?” asked Moulton.
Olson said that it was an insult to build a sewage plant over an aquifer used by 13,000 people. To consider building such a facility over a sole-source aquifer is immoral, she said.
Katherine Batts said, “If there were a spill, there would be a direct communication between the spill and our sole-source aquifer.”
The onion-soup smell valley residents have been experiencing lately was described by Taya Vercelli as “debilitating.” She smells the oniony odor from inside her office, which is located near the StockPot soup factory.
“I’m very concerned,” said Vercelli, “about Wellington (Elementary), which is about 1.5 miles from the (proposed) plant. ... I think of their learning environment,” she said.
Vercelli proposed King County put up a $20-30 million bond, so that if the sewage plant emitted odors, the city would get paid for King County’s inability to keep odors contained.
Olson wondered why a sewage plant would be built in a bowl-shaped valley instead of on the coast so that odors could blow away.
“That a sewage (treatment facility) would be built within (two miles) of six schools is unbelievable,” she added.
Susan Lease was in downtown Woodinville on one of the days the soup smell was particularly strong.
“I want to make it very clear,” said Lease, “I had to close the vents of my car. ... Consumers will not come (to Woodinville if sewage odors pervade the city).”
“It only takes once,” said Sno-King Environmental Alliance member Linda Gray. Tourists who are out golfing or visiting the wineries or attending concerts will probably come back if they smell soup. They won’t come back if they smell sewage.”