Enjoying Spring and Staying Vigilant

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After one of the wettest winters we can remember, we’re relishing the scents of spring and every sun break. And as we think of all the rain that has fallen in recent months, we’re so grateful that deep wells of standing water are not in front of our community’s homes. Our advocacy against unsafe, unfair and untested bioswales proposed during the Barton Combined Stormwater Overflow (CSO) project planning helped us avoid this.

We understand that CSOs are a very real and damaging issue for our environment. As recently as February, a failure of the West Point plant led to millions of gallons of sewage overflow into Puget Sound. We continue to follow King County’s CSO project work in our area e.g. Murray and now an impending Chelan CSO on the northeastern edge of West Seattle.

King County declared their CSO project in the Westwood and Sunrise Heights neighborhoods complete in fall 2015; it’s something we will never forget and we’re hopeful others may learn from our experience. We’ll continue to maintain this site and update it as needed to promote safe stormwater infrastructure.

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More Rainwise, Less Forced Bioswales?

Field of Daffodils

Spring has sprung, sunny, beautiful and blue one moment–gray and rainy the next. At West Seattle Raingardens, we’re enjoying the shift of the seasons. And we’re pleased to see King County’s increased promotion of the Rainwise program. We’ve also noticed the County’s “rebrand” of its Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) program as “Protecting Our Waters” and its continued erroneous references to bioswales as “rain gardens.”

We have two questions, the first being why didn’t King County begin with Rainwise from the start? Why push CSOs as a first–instead of as a last–resort?

This is Seattle–we all support clean water and healthy, effective and safe methods to manage storm water. By using the strong arm approach of forcing deep and wide CSOs into neighborhoods, King County angered, confused and broke trust with its residents. As intelligent, caring and responsible home owners, we appreciate the more democratic and reasoned approach of asking residents to willingly take part in the effort to prevent CSOs through Rainwise.

The second question is whether King County’s kinder and gentler approach is to be trusted–or if it’s just an interim step before the County continues its plans of spreading more CSOs in West Seattle and beyond?

Limited budgets have likely played a part in King County’s scaling back of its initial West Seattle CSO plans. The County may also have changed gears in part due to the hard questions and backlash from affected residents. Even though we were unable to stop the Barton CSO construction, our advocacy efforts led to some positive results including trees being saved, a stronger emphasis on safety and improvements in bioswale design.

Only time will tell what becomes of King County’s Barton bioswale project in terms of its safety, efficacy, maintenance and further spread. We’re cautiously optimistic the County’s enhanced focus on promoting Rainwise will stop the spread of CSOs across the County–but we’re still keeping a close eye on the proceedings in our neighborhood and beyond.

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Bioswale Planting Underway

We see plantings appearing in our neighborhood bioswales and plan to take photos to track the progress. One of the primary concerns is whether the swales will be well-maintained or not. Because bioswale maintenance often starts out strong and then falls short in areas such as High Point, we’ll be following what happens in Westwood and Sunrise Heights.

Speaking of High Point, we also wanted to share this short video of what a non-functioning bioswale looks like there.

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Bioswale Construction Zone

Bioswale ConstructionWe’ve been quiet, but we’re still here, in our neighborhood that now looks like a construction zone. We’re angry that King County keeps insulting our intelligence by referring to the deep ditches they’re installing as rain gardens–they are not rain gardens and continuing to call them this doesn’t make it so. What is true is that with each hole they dig, King County is legally liable if someone is hurt due to installation of these bioswales.

Like you, we’re disappointed, but not surprised that the bioswale project has proceeded. King County was determined to push it through, come hell and high water.

What we can do now?

  1. Monitor and track the functionality of the bioswales. Note if they cause the same safety and health problems as they did in Ballard. See our Issues and Photo  pages for details.
  2. Get confirmation in writing from King County that they will maintain the bioswales. See if bioswales are maintained, as promised, or if they fall into disrepair, such as the High Point bioswales.
  3. Determine if bioswales contribute to traffic and parking congestion, especially with impeding emergency vehicles.
  4. Report any incidents experienced by children (e.g. the major bioswale going in near Westside School!), the elderly or others as they try to navigate around the projects.
  5. Talk to your real estate agent to see if installation of these projects has impacted your home value.
  6. Reach out to the media to describe how this project is impacting you. Start with Tracy Recordeditor@westseattleblog.com.

Unlike the people installing this project, we live here. We’re forced to live with whatever the outcome of this project may be, and we’re not going away tomorrow or next week.

Please continue to track what’s happening and send your updates to us:  westseattleraingardens@gmail.com.

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Spring Project Update & Dow Constantine

ImageSpring is bringing beauty to Westwood and Sunrise Heights–and also a scaled back CSO project and the kickoff of King County Executive Dow Constantine’s re-election campaign.

We think these two things are related. As election season begins, Constantine is unlikely to want any negative press. We are disappointed that concerned citizens and voters reaching out to him regarding the proposed Barton CSO project has resulted in resounding silence.

We find it interesting that after months of expressing our concerns through this website, written and online petitions, speaking up at community meetings and by meeting with King County staff, as election season begins, King County has scaled back the project significantly.

King County currently plans to construct bioswales on 15 blocks–which could spread to four more blocks. Just because your home may not be included in this initial selection, don’t think you won’t be impacted.

Removal of trees, heavy construction, street closures and parking loss are just a few of the problems during a bioswale construction process. If the swales are then completed, you can look forward to a host of issues including tripping and drowning hazards, permanent parking loss, eventual neglect in swale maintenance and loss of property value.

In addition to potential political fallout, it’s also possible that this project has been scaled back due to dwindling funds. If so, this also does not bode well for how the project will be maintained if built.

It’s not too late to stop the Barton CSO project and employ other solutions. Our elected officials represent us and our issues. Our tax dollars should go to projects that contribute to both a safe and healthy environment. You have a strong and important voice; we hope you will join us by taking a stand right now.

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Storm Water Funneling = Everett Neighborhood Sinking

It started with families in the Valley View neighborhood of Everett who heard creaking in the middle of the night. Four years later, one home is devastated, others are crumbling—and a lawsuit is underway.

Private contractors and the homeowner whose property is completely destroyed believe that “the city is funneling more storm water into the ravine than it can handle, causing the deep-seated shift in the hillside.” The affected homeowner now has a 10-foot cliff in his backyard. See the video, pictures and read more here.

King County representatives promoting the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Barton bioswales project have minimized and dismissed most concerns raised by West Seattle residents. One of those concerns is that the “deep wells” King County keeps mentioning are in fact just large pipes that will dump huge volumes of water underground. This means the soil may eventually become saturated, destabilize and lead to sinkholes later.

These concerns are very real. Take notice of what’s happening in Everett. If the stormwater issue did indeed cause the problem, notice that the damage began years ago—and now the bill has come due. Those responsible for the stormwater funneling in Everett may have moved on years ago—but left homeowners holding the bag. Don’t let this happen in West Seattle. Don’t let King County dismiss your concerns, do what they will and create a problem that could cause us to suffer a few years later. Sign the petition now and demand another way to solve the Barton CSO problem.

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Be Heard This Saturday

Despite numerous safety, health and other concerns voiced by West Seattle residents, King County continues to push the Barton Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) bioswales project. What can you do?

Attend an upcoming meeting and voice your concerns. King County’s “Open House” meeting is this Saturday, October 13, 10:00 a.m. – noon at Westside School, 7740 34th Avenue S.W.

 Make sure everyone in your household has signed the petition. Sign the online petition. Email us at westseattleraingardens@gmail.com if you want someone to visit your home with the printed petition.

Read the Issues page. You’ll learn facts King County won’t share. Feel free to leave comments on any of our pages or blog posts.

Contact King County Executive, Dow Constantine. Find his contact info here.

Spread the word! Let other friends know via email, on Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks. Anyone—whether he or she lives in West Seattle, Washington State or beyond—can sign the petition and share concerns about this project.

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West Nile Virus

King County representatives have downplayed the possibility of standing water in bioswales, which could become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In the meantime, cases of West Nile Virus are escalating nationwide. This is not the time to install bioswales in our neighborhoods—doing so could bring the West Nile Virus to our front doorsteps.

Time.com is reporting that 2012 has been one of the worst years on record for West Nile virus infections. To date, 48 states have reported cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the U.S. this year, there have been more than 3500 cases and more than 100 deaths.

Especially disturbing is that more than half of the reported cases involve the severe version of the disease which attacks the nervous system and can lead to brain swelling and meningitis.

There’s no cure for the disease and no vaccine humans can take for West Nile Virus. The Washington Department of Health advises that the best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid mosquito bites and reduce the places mosquitoes live and breed around your home. They describe these areas as “wetlands and woods” and they recommend reducing all areas of standing water near your residence.

If you’re concerned about bioswales becoming mosquito breeding grounds in your neighborhood, let King County know. Sign the petition today.

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More Questions than Answers

After the June 23 – 24 King County Open House / block meetings in the Westwood and Sunrise Heights neighborhoods, we’re more convinced than ever that King County should resolve sewer overflows with other solutions than any type of above ground, open, street water collection swale.

Residents on many blocks posed numerous questions and concerns to King County and SVR representatives. SVR is the contractor hired to design the bioswales.

Most residents left the meetings feeling that the proposed bioswale project is a big experiment that puts residents’ health, safety and property values at risk. Many residents realized how this proposed project will negatively impact quality of life in the community and are disappointed that King County is proposing to give West Seattle a bioswale CSO option instead of one of the better options being given to other Seattle neighborhoods.

Residents attending the meeting cited concerns that include:

  • Drowning and tripping concerns. King County’s response is that they “don’t anticipate any accidents.” Residents may want to read about this near drowning in Renton at an unfenced water retention pond: http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/news/160711315.html?mobile=true
  • Lawsuits related to tripping and drowning hazards. In response to questions about lawsuits, King County responded: “It is not possible for the County to respond to a hypothetical question about injuries and liability. Liability is based upon the facts of a given case and the applicable law applied to those facts. If litigation is brought against the County, then the County will respond based upon the facts and law regarding that particular case.” In addition to this response being vague, it also seems more rational to prevent the possibility of a lawsuit entirely by not installing a safety hazard in the public right of way.
  • King County stating that the bioswales and bump-outs will “calm” traffic, but won’t slow down emergency vehicles—how is this possible?
  • Water build-up in swales increasing likelihood of mosquitoes and flies breeding and attracting other pests.
  • Toxin build-up in soils and mulch as water runoff from yards and streets enter the bioswales. We don’t believe that plants will mitigate all the toxins; we believe that untreated, toxic soils will sit in residential neighborhoods for extended periods of time. SVR stated that they will test the soils once a year and might replace them every 15 years or so. Also, where will these toxic soils be deposited once they are finally removed?
  • Soil oversaturation from collecting thousands of gallons of water and then piping it for years on end to a dumping point below ground. Will this create sinkholes? Will residents who already have wet basement / crawlspace issues and wet spots in yards suffer worse problems? A King County representative said that the bioswales will actually help solve these existing water issues but did not provide any data to back up this assertion.
  • Maintenance of the bioswales not being up to homeowner’s standards. An SVR representative stated that maintenance crews in High Point weeded out and mulched over groundcovers because they thought the groundcover was weeds!
  • Loss of curb appeal / pretty tree-lined streets; loss of property value during resale.
  • Loss of parking in front of homes for residents, visitors and delivery / moving trucks.

 If you continue to have concerns about this project, please sign the petition and visit the Take Action page to find other ways to help!

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Attend the Open Houses and Speak Up

King County is planning a series of Open Houses this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, June 23 and 24. The goals is to “to discuss details of the bioretention swales planned for your block.” If you have questions or concerns about the Barton CSO project, please don’t remain silent. Silence implies acceptance. Please attend the Open Houses, ask the hard questions and carefully note how your questions are answered–or not. You may want to ask exactly how deep, wide and steep the swales will be. Ask about a written release to absolve you from any and all liability if and / or when someone is hurt due to the bioswales. Ask for written indemnification–which means King County will cover the costs of any damages that occur during bioswale construction and afterwards. Ask for a written guaranteee that King County will conduct maintenance on the swales–and ask what the maintenance schedule will be. Check out the “Issues” tab for many other questions–and don’t forget to to visit the “Take Action” tab to sign the online petition.

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