By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In the most contentious public meetings so far about the prospect of a big project in the Lowman Beach Park area to reduce “combined sewer overflows” (CSO) at Murray Pump Station (left) – with three options currently under official county consideration, including one that would dig up much of the park – there were repeated calls for the county to make public all the technical information it used to settle on those alternatives while ruling out others.
Though the county project manager’s first response to that demand during April’s Morgan Community Association meeting was to suggest that residents file a public-disclosure request to force the county to give up the data, some information now appears to be coming out without quite that much of an additional fight.
With a “technical information meeting” looming this Saturday in West Seattle, documents are beginning to appear on a Technical Information page that’s part of the Puget Sound CSO Control Projects website – you can see the first round of links here.
This wasn’t announced to news media – nor was the creation of a new group to participate in the feedback process – but they’re both part of the newest developments in this ongoing controversy, as was a discussion we covered at last week’s city Parks Board meeting:
What’s just been created is a Citizens Advisory Group – which was not in the cards till residents asked for a stakeholders’ group, a request also made at the April MoCA meeting.
The group had its first meeting last Wednesday night. It wasn’t on our calendar because, frankly, we didn’t know about it. Neither the group’s creation nor the meeting itself were announced publicly ahead of time, let alone to the news media. (Still nothing online, either.) It’s standard operating procedure for government agencies to announce public meetings, and would have certainly been in order for the creation of this new group to have been announced in a news release. We found out about it by spotting a group member’s offhand online mention, and then contacted a county liaison on Thursday to ask why it hadn’t been announced to the public.
Our inquiry was forwarded to King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks public affairs manager Logan Harris, who acknowledged, “King County regrettably did not provide advance notification to news outlets for this first organizational meeting. We will be sure to provide plenty of advance notice for all remaining meetings.” Harris also included the agenda document for that first meeting, which includes the list of group members, and said the group will meet again in each of the next three months, no dates set yet, but they’re “all public meetings and will take place at the Fauntleroy Community Services Agency building, the old Fauntleroy School, at 9131 California Way SW in the evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.”
Since there was no public announcement of recruitment for the committee, we asked who chose its members. Harris replied that a consulting firm put it together: “Many community members contacted us and asked to be on the committee. Penny Mabie from EnviroIssues, was hired to convene and facilitate the group. She interviewed those who had contacted us and was referred to many other community members by the initial list of interviewees. We tried to balance those who wanted to be on it and all the interests of the neighborhood, nearby neighbors, representatives from Morgan/Murray Community Association, Fauntleroy Community Association, those living up the hill from the affected area, business people, community leaders, etc. And yet we needed to move quickly because the project schedule is a strong driver on this due to (federal permit requirements).”
Despite the latter contention, the schedule for the county to settle on a preferred alternative has moved back a few months, as was reiterated hours after our exchange with Harris. The new plan was mentioned by a county rep on Thursday night, when the city Parks Board was briefed on the Murray CSO/Lowman Beach Park proposal by one of Seattle Parks’ senior managers, Kevin Stoops.
Here’s the briefing document he provided in advance of the board meeting (which was held at Woodland Park Zoo because most of the rest of the agenda involved that facility’s annual report). First, he gave the board members a quick background overview about what the “combined sewers” carry – rain runoff from roofs that goes to downspouts and drains – and how state law now requires “no more than one (overflow) event per year per (pump station) location.”
Describing the county proposal that would bury a holding tank at Murray to try to meet that goal (the graphic above is from WSB coverage of the first full county briefing on March), he described it as a “very large tank … (that) would occupy much of the park … (and) basically takes up much of the balance of the park not already affected by Murray Avenue Pump Station.”
As for Parks’ official position, Stoops said, “We’ve expressed to King County we are not excited” about it, and “have communicated the long history of problems with the existing Murray pump station,” including existing hatches and vents at “the park surface that compromise its value for park use.”
The biggest issue, he said, involves Initiative 42, the campaign more than a decade ago to stop the city from giving up or selling parkland for other purposes. The initiative itself was adopted into law by city leaders (see the ordinance here; read the story of what inspired it, here). As Stoops summarized it to the board, “That ordinance basically protects parkland, provides that there should be no change in use in parkland, and it should not be transferred or sold for some other use unless there is no other reasonable and practicable alternative.” That final determination, he said, would be up to the City Council – after the public is asked to weigh in.
If in this case Lowman Beach Park was turned over to the county, for example, Stoops continued, under Initiative 42, the city would have to be compensated with “equivalent parkland … similar size, value, location, same community, same purpose.” That would mean, in this case, some other Beach Drive shoreline, which isn’t exactly available at the moment; “West Seattle is fully built up in this area,” he noted, adding that the city has formally expressed these concerns to King County, providing a copy of I-42.
Concerns or no concerns, Stoops concluded, the county is on a deadline, expected to finish its “initial planning stage” by December. With the extension of time for more public participation, King County’s Linda Sullivan chimed in from the audience, they are now expecting to make a decision on a preferred alternative in October/November, but they are still “expected” to submit a plan to the state by year’s end.
Board member Terry Holme said he’s “very concerned about precedents” in the Lowman/Murray CSO project – since other parks might be affected down the line. Board member John Barber wondered why the county isn’t just finding some land to buy for the project; Stoops offered further explanation of Lowman Beach-area topography, and revealed along the way that the city is “pushing” for the alternative that would include two storage facilities beneath area streets (as opposed to the Lowman Beach alternative or the one that would require the county to buy private residential land across the street for placement of a tank).
One West Seattleite spoke during the public comment period at the Parks Board meeting, which, because of the format, actually happened before Stoops’ briefing: Lowman Beach resident Dr. Ron Sterling, who is opposed to any CSO option in the park vicinity and is running the information/advocacy website West Seattle Sound Angels to catalog and advance the opposition to the current alternatives. “This park has taken enough torture for a small neighborhood park and should be left alone,” Sterling told the board.
While the county has suggested that if Lowman Beach Park is torn up to bury an underground tank, it can be restored, Sterling noted that the proposal “is completely unacceptable and unnecessary” for a variety of reasons, including that “the tennis court is literally irreplaceable” because of its unique surface. And regarding possible replacement of the park, if the county were allowed to further “industrialize it,” he said the notion that’s even possible is “ludicrous” because of Lowman’s unique features enabling a variety of recreational uses. Its century-old sycamore trees were mentioned too.
It’s not just the potential undergrounding of a million-gallon tank, but also the possibility of a sizable underground facility to handle electricity and odor control. The only thing acceptable on the site, he told the board, would be an underground diesel generator that had been discussed with neighbors long before this process, though he also said it was “unforgivable” that the pump station was allowed to be built in the park in the first place. “The original sin should not be grounds for continuing to sin.” He told the board about the ongoing advocacy campaign including petition signatures.
He asked the board to “take a position publicly.” (They could not have done that Thursday night even if they had wanted to, as they did not have quorum, with four members missing; vice chair Neal Adams ran the meeting in chair Jackie Ramels‘ absence – both, by the way, are West Seattle residents. It also should be noted that the Parks Board is an advisory body, without official legislative powers.)
WHAT’S NEXT: This Saturday’s all-day “technical information meeting” runs from 9:30 am-4:30 pm. Discussions are planned at Gatewood Elementary, leading up to an optional “field trip” to Murray and Alki’s 53rd Avenue Pump Stations at 3 pm. The agenda can be seen here. Also, the county promises to continue adding to the technical information that’s online. Whether this provides everything that neighborhood advocates are hoping to get, remains to be seen; you can watch for additions here.