Letters

Below is the content of a letter sent by concerned citizens to King County Executive, Dow Constantine.

Also, in spring of 2012, we submitted a formal request via the King County website to meet in person with Mr. Constantine. Although the information listed on the County web page notes that we should hear a response within two weeks, we never received one. We sent a follow up e-mail about our meeting request and that also went unanswered. It was very disappointing that Mr. Constantine completely ignored our calls to meet with him personally about an issue of great importance to so many West Seattle residents and voters.

We saw Dow Constantine as a strong advocate for the environment and couldn’t imagine he would want a legacy of creating health hazards (toxins, mosquitoes potentially carrying disease) in residential neighborhoods and wasting millions of tax dollars.

Although we never received a direct response from Mr. Constantine, we did receive a response from a member of his staff, Pam Elardo. That e-mail exchange is included below; it is listed in reverse order than a typical e-mail string for ease of reading.  The e-mail exchange ends with an action item of meeting with Mr. Constantine’s staff.

On May 18, 2012, several homeowners met with a few members of Mr. Constantine’s staff for two hours. The King County staff members took notes but ended the meeting by saying that they planned to press ahead with the project despite the many concerns raised about health, safety and accessibility. At the close of the meeting, one of the staff members suggested we request a meeting directly with Mr. Constantine. As mentioned above, that request was submitted–and summarily ignored.

*******************************************************

March 20, 2012

Dear Executive Constantine:

We are writing as very concerned citizens of West Seattle in one of the neighborhoods that would be impacted by the proposed Barton Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project. We are requesting that this project be stopped immediately for many reasons, but primarily due to life safety and liability risks.

 You have always been a strong advocate for protecting the environment and we stand with you in that effort. We understand that sewer overflows caused by large storm events must be stopped, but urge you to resolve the problem by other means that do not create a life safety hazard in residential neighborhoods.

 In short, the Barton CSO project is unsafe, unfair and untested. We have researched this issue and have written and met with County staff working on this project. Based on what we have learned, we are deeply troubled. We summarized our concerns below and trust that you will consider this information carefully:

 Unsafe

  • Managers of the project cannot guarantee that water won’t pool in the “bioswales” during continuous days of rain. Standing water is a drowning hazard for the many children who live in and walk to and from schools throughout our neighborhood.
  •  Standing water creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which could lead to cases of West Nile Virus.
  • Building “bioswales” with steep grades in planting strips creates a hazard on both the street side and sidewalk side—creating access, usability and safety risks for everyone, especially young, elderly and disabled residents.
  •  Standing water will attract nuisance pests including rats.
  • The design calls for removing established trees; this negates the neighborhood and city efforts to increase the urban tree canopy. New trees will be planted at the sidewalk edges of the bioswales; this could lead to pedestrian traffic infringement, tree roots lifting or cracking sidewalks—and more life safety hazards.
  •  Street parking will be lost on several blocks. This will force cars into denser parking on unaffected streets, disturb traffic flow, and put cars further from their owners—making them more susceptible to car prowl and break ins.

Unfair

  • If any citizens are hurt due to the life safety hazards described above, homeowners would be sued—along with the City of Seattle and King County—although we are not responsible for this project.
  • The project design is unattractive; it will ruin the beauty and quality of life in our neighborhood with curb “bump outs” or “bulbs” that include bright white “curb cuts” and tall metal posts with orange and black striped signs on top of them.
  • The installation of this unattractive hardscape in front of residential homes will reduce property values as it did after the failed “rain gardens” project in Ballard. Managers of the project have done no due diligence regarding this—with the exception of a lone research article that doesn’t cite a single real estate agent and is not independently sourced.
  •  This type of project is only being proposed in certain neighborhoods—ones where citizens have less political and/or financial clout. This type of project would never be proposed in neighborhoods such as Admiral, Laurelhurst or Madison Park. All citizens deserve a positive quality of life. If you would not have this specific project in front of your own home, then it is inappropriate for any neighborhood.
  • This project was forced to our neighborhood after a safer and more efficient option was recommended—but met opposition from business owners. The financial concerns of business owners cannot be held above the critical life safety concerns of communities.

 Untested

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Although this project initially has funding, will the County or City truly continue the necessary constant maintenance in front of all of these individual properties—versus directing the water to one simple facility? Is the County truly prepared to continue funding this project at the necessary level—or will it fall apart in a few years?
  • We find it difficult to believe that the chosen option will produce a smaller carbon footprint with trucks constantly going through tight neighborhood streets, workers using heavy equipment to pull apart an established neighborhood, trees being cut down, uprooted and moved and existing plantings being ripped out. Also, the constant maintenance will create a high carbon footprint as well.

 Again, we understand that the CSO problem must be addressed and know you are seeking the greenest option possible. We wish that this option was the right solution, but there are simply too many risks and unknowns to proceed with it in good conscience.

We are confident you will demonstrate your concern for community health and safety by listening to our concerns and stopping this project at once. We appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

  —–Original Message—–
From: Elardo, Pam [mailto:Pam.Elardo@kingcounty.gov]
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2012 3:34 PM
Subject: Formal Complaint – Barton CSO Project

Dear Concerned West Seattle Citizens:

Thank you for your March 20, 2012, email expressing your concerns regarding the Barton Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) control project. King County’s Executive Constantine asked that I respond on his behalf. I know that the project team met with you on March 15 to discuss your concerns, answer your questions, and describe opportunities ahead to become involved in the design.

We share your concerns for the health and safety of your community, and appreciate your understanding that CSOs must be addressed and controlled. Our team researched and investigated a variety of options for controlling CSOs in your community and selected bioretention swales for two primary reasons.

1.    Bioretention provides environmental benefits: It diverts stormwater from the combined sewer system thereby reducing energy resources and chemicals necessary for water treatment, storage tanks and operating facilities. It increases plants and trees in the built environment, which absorb carbon dioxide and create a more pedestrian and bike friendly environment. It promotes natural processes that recharge groundwater.

2.    Bioretention is a viable option in Sunrise Heights and Westwood: Most of the neighborhood is connected to the combined sewer system, and it has relatively flat streets and wide planter strips.

Extensive research has gone into the design of the bioretention swale system that will be constructed in the public right-of-way, including 29 groundwater monitoring wells, eight infiltration test pits and three deep infiltration borings to understand soil layers, how water moves underground, and how this project will impact the local aquifer. Detailed above ground field surveys have provided information on the best locations for siting the swales that will allow for a functioning system that minimizes impacts on the neighborhood, where possible.

The Barton CSO Green Infrastructure Project will be funded and maintained like any of our other “brick and mortar” facilities. Bioretention swales are designed to infiltrate in less than 72 hours, and usually in 24 hours. Underdrains and deep infiltration will move water through the system, and not contribute to existing drainage problems. We have researched and spoken with other agencies that maintain bioretention swales, including the neighboring High Point maintenance staff who have told us that they have never had a problem with rats or mosquitoes from the bioretention swales. This project is being built to meet Department of Ecology regulations and King County will be required by permit to design a functioning system and keep it maintained in perpetuity.

It’s true that all construction projects, including green infrastructure projects, have impacts during construction, and we will work closely with you during this process. We are also working during design to find ways to minimize disruption, such as looking for opportunities to avoid disturbing mature trees, moving and planting more trees, locating swales considering parking, and where possible, putting “bump out” swales at street ends, where parking is often restricted 30 feet from the corner.

As you know, there were community meetings on March 28 and March 31 which provided you and your neighbors an opportunity to discuss specifics of the project design as it has developed to date. Block level meetings will begin in May, and these will provide many more opportunities for residents to become informed and involved in the design process on their street.

I recognize you may have additional questions about the project in your neighborhood, and I invite you to contact the project team so they can discuss them in depth.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to call Kristine Cramer, Wastewater Treatment Division’s Environmental and Community Services Project Manager, at 206-263-3184.

Thank you for your interest and engagement.

Sincerely,

Pam Elardo, P.E.

Director

Wastewater Treatment Division

Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 1:53 PM
To: Elardo, Pam
Subject: RE: Formal Complaint – Barton CSO Project

Dear Ms. Elardo:

I appreciate your response on April 2, 2012 to the letter my neighbors and I sent on March 20, 2012. Your letter described how the project is designed to work–information we have already received–but unfortunately it did not directly address the numerous life safety and liability risks detailed in the initial letter. Specifically:

  • Your letter notes that “bioretention swales are designed to infiltrate in less than 72 hours, and usually in 24 hours.” This means that during continuous days of rain, water will pool in bioswales from one to three days-and will create an ongoing drowning hazard. As you may know, children can drown in as little as two inches of water in a very short period of time. It is of grave concern that a potential drowning hazard would be placed in the right of way, in residential neighborhoods through which many children travel and live. It is very disturbing that the County has not directly responded to this concern.
  • Also, your letter did not address the steep grades in the bioswales that would create a hazard on both the street side and sidewalk side. The bioswales would create usability and safety risks to everyone, especially the young, elderly and disabled residents. Instead of commenting on this potential hazard, your letter stated that biorention would create a “pedestrian and bike friendly environment.”

In addition to the lack of response on these critical issues, there was also no response to:

  • Pedestrian traffic infringement by placing new trees too close to sidewalks.
  • Lack of examples of where this specific, proposed design is installed and working.
  • Loss of parking and potentially more car prowl and break ins.
  • Unattractive hardscape design including “bump outs,” orange and black striped signs and curb cuts.
  • Reduction in property value/lack of research and due diligence in this area.
  • Bioswale installation in “select” neighborhoods.
  • Conflicting accounts of whether the project will solve or worsen existing water drainage problems.

I am glad to hear that residents of High Point have not experienced mosquitoes and rats, however the proposed project in the Westwood and Sunrise Heights neighborhoods is a retrofit in an established neighborhood. High Point is completely new construction built from the ground up with a retention pond, permeable sidewalks, etc. so it is unclear why the County continues to compare the High Point project to the proposed Barton project. Also, one of the biggest differences between the High Point and Barton projects is that residents chose to live in High Point–and once the project was already built. Westwood and Sunrise Heights residents have not been given a choice–and we will also have to live through the construction process.

It would be ideal if the greenest possible solution could be chosen to solve the CSO problem. It would also be ideal to choose the least expensive option, however safety should always be the first and final decision-maker. Although it would not be the County’s first choice, it is clear that the option of a storage facility would avoid any life safety risks and all of the other concerns and issues raised in these letters.

I continue to believe, like many others who are currently signing a petition, that this proposed project is unsafe, unfair and untested. Regretfully, if the County insists on moving forward with this project, I and other neighbors would like to receive a written release–before construction begins–to absolve us of any and all liability if and/or when someone is hurt due to the installation of the bioswales and attendant new construction (placement of trees too close to the sidewalk, curb bulbs, etc.). At the Saturday, March 31 meeting, a neighbor requested this and a County staff person named John said he would check with the Legal Department. We look forward to receiving this written release; in the meantime we maintain hope that the County will do the right thing by stopping a project that would create hazards to community safety and health.

—–Original Message—–
From: Elardo, Pam [mailto:Pam.Elardo@kingcounty.gov]
Sent: Monday, April 09, 2012 12:26 PM
Subject: Formal Complaint – Barton CSO Project
Importance: High

Thank you for your email responding to my letter from April 2.  I understand that you are concerned about the project, and have a number of questions.  I appreciate the time you’ve invested in learning about the project at the small neighborhood meeting on March 15, the late March community meetings, and phone calls with county staff.  As a next step, I’d like to invite you to meet with my staff to discuss your concerns. I may also be able to attend, depending on my schedule.

Please work with Kristine Cramer, Wastewater Treatment Division Community Services, at 263-3184 or Kristine.cramer@kingcounty.gov to set up a meeting that is convenient for you.

I expect that meeting with you will greatly assist in understanding and discussing your concerns and the goals of the project..

Regards,

Pam Elardo, PE

Director

Wastewater Treatment Division

Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:17 AM
To: Elardo, Pam
Subject: RE: Formal Complaint – Barton CSO Project

Dear Ms. Elardo:

I appreciate your offer to meet however I need to clarify who would be present at the meeting. My neighbors and I have already met twice with project staff and have attended community meetings. We understand the project team’s point of view and have heard a great deal of technical information.

Respectfully, my interest at this point would be to meet with project decision makers, not with the project implementers.

—–Original Message—–
From: Elardo, Pam [mailto:Pam.Elardo@kingcounty.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 1:59 PM
Subject: RE: Formal Complaint – Barton CSO Project

I will get a meeting set up for you with WTD senior management and design/maintenance staff.  Hopefully this meeting can happen relatively soon.

You should hear back from us soon to find out the best times for you.

Thank you for your interest and dialogue.

Sincerely,

Pam

 Pam Elardo, P.E. | Division Director | King County WTD – Your Clean Water Utility

pam.elardo@kingcounty.gov | o. 206.684.1236

http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd.aspx

Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/kccleanwater

NOTE FROM WEST SEATTLE GARDENS: Please scroll to the top of the page to see what happened in the May 2012 meeting with King County staff and afterwards.

3 Responses to Letters

  1. Seana Barker says:

    Did you ever receive a reply from Mr. Constantine? If so please post his reply.

    • Thank you for your question, Seana. In response, we’ve updated this page with more information on our communication with King County. We’ve heard from Mr. Constantine’s staff but are still awaiting a direct response from and / or a meeting with him.

  2. Here’s my letter to King County Barton CSO staff”

    Howdy,

    I’m interested in the trees that will be affected between Holden & Barton. Is there a list of trees and an arborist report? Thanks.

    SDOT has a new tree planting policy that includes 3 years of young tree establishment practices for staking, irrigation, mulching & pruning in the planting budget. Does this project implement the SDOT tree establishment policy? What are the funded maintenance practices for this Barton project?

    Michael

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