Lynnwood residents want light rail and parks. They also want a viable downtown and a community not inundated by flooding.
So with the Sound Transit moving into the final planning stages of the Lynnwood link, there are no easy choices.
Two routes would eliminate or severely damage Scriber Creek Park, one of the few parks in the city, and would impact hundreds of homes. An alternative would mean placing pilings in some of the city’s last surviving wetlands, affecting birds and wildlife with light, noise and vibration.
Another would impact the city’s sewage-treatment plant, making it difficult for the city to expand it as the city grows. All have the potential for contributing to flooding, said Jared Bond, Lynnwood’s Environment and Surface Water manager.
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In the meantime, a Seattle attorney who is the vice chairman of the national Urban Land Institute, a transit-development think tank, told the Sound Transit Board that transit-oriented development should trump wetlands and parks.
When a small group of women took on the task of preserving their neighborhood and Scriber Creek Park, they thought they had won when on Sept. 23 the city passed a resolution endorsing a modified version of the transit plan the women favored — one that preserved their neighborhood, the park and affected the fewest number of homes and businesses.
The city endorsed the modified option to be able to eventually expand the sewage-treatment system and to avoid other expensive aspects of the route the women opposed. But the modified route means putting transit pilings in the wetlands.
“There is no way to avoid the wetlands entirely,’’ said City Councilman Christopher Boyer. “We want to make the impact as minimal as possible to the homes and existing business and then set up for the future.”
The women are even more concerned as other issues come to light about flooding and interest from possible developers.
“This is our home. … We’re fighting for the birds, the animals in the park, the quality of life we have here,’’ said Maryellen Walsh, a member of the neighborhood group, Save Scriber Creek and Wetland.
Flooding is a concern for Lynnwood officials, who say Sound Transit should do a better analysis of the impact its decisions will have on the area.
“We’re looking carefully at the environmental impact study and in some points we’ve disagreed with Sound Transit,’’ said.
Bond goes further and says Sound Transit simply didn’t take a realistic assessment of the wetlands.
“We have flooding in low storm events,’’ Bond said. Let alone in the so-called 100-year-storms, he added.
Tricia Monaghan, another member of the citizens’ group, agrees. “It’s pretty obvious … that if the North Scriber Creek wetland is filled or is used for some other function … it will increase flooding.’’
Bruce Gray, Sound Transit media spokesman, said “these sort of concerns and comments are what the EIS (environmental impact statement) process is all about.’’
He said Sound Transit looked at flood-plain impacts for the 17-acre Scriber Creek Wetlands and would compensate for removing any by building water storage elsewhere.
“No adverse flood plain impacts are expected,’’ he said.
Information goes to board
The design is about 5 percent complete, leaving room for mitigation. All the information now goes to the board for a recommendation, and then work on the final environmental impact statement begins, he said.
For many, it may be a surprise to learn that Lynnwood has wetlands or a stream since most of the city is developed. But Sound Transit’s own draft environmental impact statement shows that Scriber Creek is home to coho salmon and cutthroat trout.
In the future, the Edmonds School District plans to build a bus base and administration center in Lynnwood. That and the proposed Sound Transit operations satellite facility are planned for the Scriber Creek wetland area. According to the Sound Transit report, those developments could adversely impact the wetlands.
When Scriber Creek overflows its banks, the wetlands provide an area for the creek to spread out, Bond said.
“If the creek can’t spread out in that natural wetland, it will spread out in people’s homes and streets.’’
Traditionally, mitigating loss of wetlands has been done by building drainage ponds or building other wetlands.
But at what point is there too much loss to successfully mitigate? Scriber Creek is part of a very large regional watershed, Bond said. The wetlands, which all of the Sound Transit routes would affect to some degree, are in a 100-year-flood plain.
“We just completed a flood-study down there. There are lots of homes and apartments on Cedar Valley Road. … Even now they are flooding in very low-level storms.”
On Sept. 23, the last day written public comments were accepted, John Hempelmann, a Seattle attorney and vice chairman of the national Urban Land Institute, wrote to the Sound Transit Board, advocating for the alternative that would eliminate the park and impact 300 homes.
In his letter, Hempelmann wrote that the law firm was voicing its opinions because transit-oriented-development projects and the communities they create are “so important to the success of the Lynnwood Link … and because our clients will be creating those … communities.’’
According to his letter, he represents several “local, national and international real-estate developers constructing or planning transit-oriented development.’’
“Some people say save the wetlands,” Hempelmann wrote. “I believe the higher priority is having good transit-oriented development.’’
The women who started the group because they liked to walk in the park were incensed. How can you weigh the value of a park and wetlands against potential development?
In 1997, three researchers did just that in a state Department of Ecology study showing that Scriber Creek — and other wetlands in the area — actually do have economic value when one considers the cost of installing water-retention systems and the damage from flooding once the wetlands are gone.
“There’s a strong economic rationale for communities in Western Washington to protect wetlands today in order to avoid what are likely to be much higher costs of flood protection in the future,’’ wrote the researchers.
Some wetlands can have a value of up to $51,000 per square acre in preventing flood loss, they estimated.
Studies have shown that flood peaks may be as much as 80 percent higher in watersheds without wetlands than in similar basins with large wetland areas, and following one major storm the Scriber Creek wetland was estimated to reduce the water flow in the creek from 81 cubic-feet-per-second to 16, according to the study.
Early planning essential
Also compounding the choices, the 3.8 acre Scriber Creek Park was
built with Conservation Futures funds and is supposed to be preserved for perpetuity.
Like many suburbs, Lynnwood has sought to create a viable downtown for years and has looked toward transit as the hub for mixed-use neighborhoods of apartments and businesses. If developed right, with a plaza and no obstruction between the station and businesses, it can work, Hempelmann said. But planning early is essential.
“I’m focused primarily on what will make for good pedestrian, walkable … stations,’’ he said. “I understand there are all kind of trade offs … Often properties are taken by Sound Transit. In the short term it’s hard to swallow, but there are long-term benefits.’’
With the billions of dollars going into Sound Transit, “We need to look 20 or 30 years down the road,’’ Hempelmann said. “You can’t just build a station and they will come.”
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522