By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the second time in two weeks, King County Wastewater Treatment brought a team to West Seattle to explain and discuss proposed solutions for a problem that sends more than a million gallons of untreated wastewater and stormwater into this part of Puget Sound in the average year.
This time, at Monday night’s meeting about proposals for the area feeding the Murray pump station at Lowman Beach, the proposed trio of solutions drew even more concern than the trio explained earlier this month for the area served by the Barton pump station by the Fauntleroy ferry dock. (The entire meeting presentation, by the way, is now online – see it here.)
One of them would involve digging up most of Lowman Beach Park, including its unique beachfront tennis court and two century-old trees. Another would involve acquiring homes across the street from Lowman, through eminent domain if necessary. Read on for a look at all three and what the crowd of about 40 at the Southwest Community Center meeting heard and said about them:
That’s a map of the Murray “basin” – the thousand-acre area from which wastewater and stormwater from the “combined sewer” flows to the station itself beneath the south side of Lowman Beach. That system itself is part of the problem; as the county explained at the first meeting, newer systems move stormwater and sewage separately, but the systems here mix them, and when there’s heavy rain – as happened to be the case during last night’s meeting – the system can go into overdrive, causing untreated overflows into Puget Sound.
The state has ordered the county to take action to dramatically cut down on those overflows – and as part of the terms of its permit for the West Point treatment plant in Magnolia, they have to have plans for some of the sites by the end of this year. In turn, to meet that deadline, the county must settle on a plan this summer. As project team member Bob Wheeler put it, “Things are really starting to speed up now.”
As was also explained at the Barton meeting, the types of options available, detailed here, come in four types: Expand the system’s capacity to move more water to other facilities for treatment; build storage to hold onto the excess water until the overload conditions subside; take steps to dramatically reduce the amount of stormwater that makes it into the system in the first place. And of course, as consultant Jeff Lykken of Tetra Tech pointed out, they could also choose a combination of any of the above.
But for Murray/Lowman, they said, where the overflow control would likely be needed 8 to 10 times a year, only three versions of added storage made sense – because of various challenges in the “basin,” from topography to neighborhood development, and more.
The three options that were presented, in brief, each with an added component – an above-ground facility for odor control and power generation (to avoid the Murray overflows that have resulted from power outages, as recently as this one two weeks ago):
That’s the one with an 170 x 85 x 20 (feet) underground tank at Lowman and a storage pipe under Beach Drive stretching a ways north. It also would put the odor-control/generator facility on the north side of the park, above ground, which startled Cindi Barker from the Morgan Community Association, who pointed out they’d been talking with the county for years about locating that part of the expected Murray station upgrade underground, closer to the current station’s site on the south side of the park. Potential price tag: $13 million, not counting any land-acquisition or permit costs.
Now, on to number two:
That’s the one with an underground tank beneath land that currently holds homes and apartments across the street from Lowman Beach Park. The tank would need to hold up to a million gallons; depending on its size, the necessary
storage capacity would be reached by adding a holding pipe under Beach Drive, up to 500 feet long. In this case, the above-ground odor/electrical facility would not be in Lowman Beach Park, but instead would be on the north side of the parcels, which currently hold an apartment building and single-family/multiplex homes, whose property owners, the county said, “have been notified.” Dour said, “The properties would be bought,” though King County’s Bill Wilbert acknowledged to us after the meeting that if any owners wouldn’t sell, they could be forced out by eminent domain. “The County Council really frowns on that, though,” he noted. The cost of this – like the other estimates, without including land and permit costs: $19 million.
Third and final:
And that’s the one with two storage pipes, one beneath Beach Drive, one beneath Murray SW. The BD pipe would be about 900 feet long; the Murray pipe, at least 250 feet long. This also would include the one-story odor-control/power-generating facility on the north side of the Lowman park, as well as an odor-control/electrical facility at the east end of the Murray pipe. Estimated cost, without land or permits: $26 million.
The pipes are massive, it was pointed out – about 12 feet. Lots of other big numbers thrown around – 31.5 million gallons is the current capacity of the Murray station, with about half of that flowing through from Barton on the other side of Lincoln Park, an important point for some who had a lot of questions. To reduce overflows, they need either 1 million gallons of extra storage, or they need to double the amount of treatment or conveyance (getting the untreated water to another facility, like the Alki “wet-weather” plant). Neither of those was deemed feasible, so the three options above are being pursued.
Another staffer from consulting firm Tetra Tech, Kevin Dour, discussed the challenges with the Murray basin – unlike Barton, you can’t really intercept enough flow further uphill from the pump station to make a difference, because the “peak flows converge right before the station.” Attendees stopped the presentation often to ask questions, though county reps tried to gently encourage them to hold those questions to the end; one question at this point was, why can’t a storage tank be built somewhere on the Gatewood Elementary grounds, as is proposed with the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse grounds in the Barton options? The answer – not enough of the peak flow is going by at that point.
Another question: What about putting storage in under the beach? Likely an environmental no-go, was the essence of the answer.
And: What about underground storage at Lincoln Park, maybe enough to handle both the Barton and Murray overflow problems? Consultants said that had been studied, but it would likely require a “deep bore tunnel,” which wouldn’t be a good match for the kind of land in the park, not to mention the fact it would require major construction at the pump-station sites on both ends of that tunnel.
One line of questioning from attendees involved the need for this system – so much money and so much potential disruption, to handle a relatively small percentage of the untreated water streaming into the Sound. Murray alone puts 5 million gallons of combined overflow into the water each year; pressed to estimate how that fits into the big picture, the project team said King County CSO’s are responsible for 900 million gallons each year – but regardless of how small a percentage 5 million gallons might seem, compared to that, it’s still 5 million gallons, and the law requires them to shrink that number.
What about earthquake liquefaction and tsunami risk? MoCA’s Cindi Barker – who also works extensively on emergency preparedness – asked.
Tetra Tech’s Lykken replied that the facility wouldn’t break up, but might settle as much as two inches after a big quake. “We would need to look at whether pile supports might be required” for a Lowman Beach Park storage facility.
Then the questions that raised emotions: What about Lowman’s rugged but much-used beachfront tennis court, and the two huge century-old trees in the park lawn east of it? (You can see part of one of the trees, and the tennis court, in the background of this photo we took a year and a half ago, while the Lowman swing set was being replaced:)
You can also see them in this Seattle Municipal Archives photo taken during work at the site in 1959:
“The trees would be impacted by construction,” Lykken confirmed. But he went on to say that there was no analysis so far “how views would be impacted.”
A man toward the back of the room subsequently spoke out with the most emotion of the night: “You need to hear, you need to understand – this is a park. This is a natural park. I can’t believe the city is not in the room …”
That’s when Cheryl Eastberg from Seattle Parks introduced herself briefly and apologized for arriving late.
The man continued, “You’re not talking about some throwaway site.”
Meeting coordinator Bob Wheeler said, “That’s what we’re here for, we want to hear that.”
As the man in back continued to press the point, Parks’ Eastberg said, “Parks is not enthusiastic about this, and has many of the same questions, frankly. Parkland being used for utilities is a concern for Parks. … My personal thought is that, this park is already so impacted by utilities, what if it just became a utility site?”
“No, no, I’m sorry, this is not a throwaway park,” insisted the attendee.
Park neighbor Dr. Ron Sterling added, “It’s inappropriate to put anything (this size) in there – this would totally industrialize an area that’s already half-industrialized, though it’s a high-traffic area,” particularly for pedestrians walking to and from Lincoln Park, a long block south at the end of Beach Drive.
“It’s like the Burke-Gilman Trail,” declared a voice from the crowd.
Sterling repeated his contention that the county should consider it might be “underbuilding Barton” which in turn requires Murray to be bigger. (In comparison to the potential million-gallon tank across from Lowman, for example, the proposed underground tank on Fauntleroy Schoolhouse grounds would be 200,000 gallons – Barton needs less interception to avoid overflows.) He also vowed to talk to legislators about changing the law that set this process in motion, telling the county reps, “I don’t think you’re making decisions in the interest of our neighborhood.”
Community-relations rep Martha Tuttle tried to soothe the crowd, saying, “We will continue to work with the community. We’ve been working with you for years – we’re not going to walk away now. … You’ve given us a lot to think about; we understand your park is very important to you.”
Another member of the county team observed, “It sure was an interesting night.”
But that wasn’t the end. The timetable for feedback had to be hashed out a bit. Morgan Community Association reps pointed out that while the presentation suggested feedback would be taken only through “mid-April,” their next general meeting is April 21, and this project would be a vital part of the agenda. The county agreed to hold the comment deadline until after that meeting. Here are all the ways you can comment.
From there, the timetable included “define proposal for further review” by early summer and a “draft facility plan” to the state by year’s end. Next year, there will be opportunities for public comment in the environmental -review process.
Parks rep Eastberg also invited those worried about Lowman Beach’s future to contact her department directly; various means of contact are listed here.
Again, here’s the full presentation shown onscreen at Monday night’s meeting, and here’s the home page for information about the Murray basin CSO project. (If you hadn’t yet seen the presentation from the Barton meeting – here’s that link; our coverage of that gathering is here.)