(7900 block of 30th SW)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight, Sunrise Heights/Westwood residents are expected to find out if the county thinks the planting strips in front of their homes are the best prospective sites for raingardens to reduce sewer overflows miles away.
The plan has been two-plus years in the making, as the county’s preferred solution to the problem of Puget Sound overflows from the Barton Pump Station near the Fauntleroy ferry dock – but only now is it becoming less abstract, more real, as final decisions get closer. And that is worrying the people who live in the 7900 block of 30th SW, who have asked County Executive Dow Constantine to stop the project.
After the county announced two meetings for tonight and Saturday morning, resident Sabrina Urquhart sent a “media advisory” to make sure the meetings would be covered.
We asked if she and her neighbors would be willing to talk in advance about their concerns. So a small group gathered in her living room Monday evening – joining Sabrina were neighbors Heather, Jim, and Kevin.
In addition to the public meetings that have been held about the project, this block has had two private meetings with county reps, they say – in May of last year, and again this month. They say they’re worried that the county is proceeding with the plan despite the discovery that their soil has much in common with the soil in the Ballard area where a city “green stormwater infrastructure project” went infamously wrong. In their letter to Constantine, the neighbors write:
• Managers for the project found the same impervious soils in West Seattle as in Ballard’s failed rain gardens. They plan to address this with under drains and deep wells — but have no proof that doing so will work — and that it won’t create new issues underground. Our city streets already have problems with storm drains clogging from debris running down the street. This demonstrates the proposed design will not work and drains will clog. No matter what yellow or red flags the team encounters, they continue to railroad the Barton project through — with no guarantees that their plans will succeed.
Sabrina pointed us to a website with Ballard photos that the neighbors fear could be the shape of things to come, though they say the county has assured them this will be different. Those assurances also were voiced at a public meeting one year ago – where a city rep was even in attendance to field questions about the Ballard woes. The county said its advance testing and exploring – which we’ve covered along the way – would give them information that wasn’t obtained in advance of the city’s Ballard project. It’s been more than a year since the testing has brought scenes like this to area neighborhoods:
(WSB photo from March 2011)
The research also has included surveying residents to discover more signs of drainage trouble – asking who has trouble with water in their basements, for example. And today – in advance of tonight’s meeting – the county has updated its website to add a page of information about what the testing revealed; it mentions the low-drainage soil type, but says a lower layer should help with drainage.
Sabrina and her neighbors say the drainage challenges apply to their block and in their view should have ruled them out. But they say they have been told that the “infrastructure” could include a drainage system that would channel the water from raingardens/swales to a holding zone somewhere nearby – and they worry what it would take to dig the holes for those pipes. From their letter to the county executive:
• Managers for the project initially said they would not place the bioswales onto properties already experiencing water issues—but now plan to do so. They cannot guarantee that existing water drainage problems (flooded basements, standing water in water meters in planting strips, etc.) won’t worsen due to the project. Instead, we’re being asked to retain more water adjacent to our properties.
Another issue for the neighbors: The county, as it noted very early in the process, has not done this before. This would be a first. Again, from their letter:
• Managers for the project could not cite a single example of where the proposed design is installed and working. Pieces and parts are being pulled together from other projects, but as a whole, the proposed Barton project design has not been tested. This would be a very costly and risky experiment — of citizens’ lives and tax dollars.
• Project Managers point to other “rain garden” examples (e.g. High Point) that do not match our neighborhood. High Point was built from scratch with permeable sidewalks, a retention pond, etc. The Barton project would be a retrofit in an old, established neighborhood. The only previous — and disastrous — example we have of this is Ballard.
They also are concerned about children falling into standing water, pointing out that their neighborhood is near playgrounds and schools.
Several neighborhood representatives plan to be at tonight’s meeting and Saturday’s meeting (the county says the material to be presented at each is identical) to make sure their concerns are voiced. And they wanted to reiterate, they are not opposed to the sustainability goals of this project – but it seems to them like an experiment that may well not yield the results it’s supposed to, and will instead carry a high cost.
What’s next? We’ll find out starting at 6:30 pm at Westside School (7740 34th SW) tonight.