Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Shoreline Permits Recently File (As Mitigation For Impacts Of SR 520 Construction) That Could Negatively Impact Union Bay Wetlands

A Land Use Permit Sign went up last month posted by the City of Seattle and their request for shoreline permits from WSDOT in Union and Portage Bay as part of the mitigation proposed by WSDOT for the impacts of building the SR520 bridge.

This specific proposal for a new permit, Colleen, with the Laurelhurst Community Club, tells us is to convert gravel parking area into a Class 2 upland wetland replacement for the wetlands lost in Portage Bay.  In addition, a new Class 2 wetland is proposed in Magnuson Park, an upland wetland with a gravel bed for salmon.

The permits (#3012585, 3012586, 3012587). say in part that this "Shoreline Substantial Development Permit is to create 2.6 acres of new wetland, enhance 9.2 acres of existing wetland and enhance 8.4 acres of native upland grassland and forest in an environmentally critical area. Project includes grading of 6,425 cu. yds. of material. Environmental documents prepared by Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration."

Colleen says that there are three permits filed as the projects environmental impacts are divided up into the three small segments: e.g., the impacts of a second bascule bridge, the western approach, the floating postion of the bridge and the Portage Bay bridge. Each segment has very distinct mitigation requirements related to the destruction of the environment as a result of the new bridge footprint.

She adds that WSDOT wants the City of Seattle to issue permits asap for all future work on SR520 despite the lack of detail, and complete plans.

The affected coalition of affected neighborhoods including Montlake, Madison Park, Laurelhurst, North Capitol Hill, Portage Bay and Roanake Parks and the Seattle Boating Community have requested that DPD not issue blanket permits for the western side of SAR520 until such plans are more fully developed.  "Their concern is justified in that the configuation can shift as well as the footprint, worsening the impacts on Seattle's wetlands and its oldest and most dense neighborhoods," Colleen says. This meeting was held at the Mayor's Office on Sept 30, 2011.

The Laurelhurst Community Club recently submitted a letter to the Seattle Department of Planning outlining their concerns about the proposed plans for mitigation as well as allowing the public to weigh in before the comment period expires. It is the positon of LCC that any mitigation( required by the Shoreline Master Plan in Seattle) to provide mitigation closest to the site that will suffer impacts.

Colleen tells us that LCC's main concerns are that:

1) The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will issue permits for the SR520 bridge before its actual design is complete. Colleen adds that "the OPED in the Seattle Times on Wednesday is from the Yarrow Bay community which is being gutted of trees and foilage, and are getting traffic devices that are not workable in their neighborhood. Why? Because WSDOT is allowing a 'design build approach' rather than requiring the bridge builder to provide exact drawings of what will/can be built for prior approval. DPD requires specifics of everything else, so why should WSDOT be exempted for SR520. What could be built, could be an unmitigated conguration that was not vetted in the EIS, and have permanent impacts on surrounding ecosystems and adjacent neighborhoods."

2) The mitigation proposed to compensate for the environmental damage will be directed "off site", rather than more mitigation in Union and Portage Bays where the impacts will occur.

3) WSDOT should improve the water quality of Union Bay in a large way to compensate for the 2 and a half sized footprint of the new concrete structure.  The larger structure creates more shade in Union Bay. Shading can provide a good habitat for predators of salmon (eg bass). Thus, a more improved adjacent waterway should be provided. With existing conditions, the water quality is compromised by invasive, non native noxious weeds and a large coverage of water lilies.
The water lilies appear to be beautiful, but in fact they create 2 problems for salmon passage.  Their density makes it hard for fish to "swim through" on their spawning journeys.  The coverage of the lake by water lilies causes the water underneath it to "heat up", and salmon do not like warmer waters ,so this impedes their spawning journey as well.

4) Mitigation should include ridding Union Bay of non-native weeds so that the water quality provides a better environment for salmon spawning and wildlife whose habitat is the bay..

LCC has suggested that WSDOT provide pre-construction, construction and post construction noxious weed control in Union Bay for up to 10 years. In addition LCC has requested to dredge the shipping lanes deeper and wider to accommodate more kayak, and small craft usage permaently. (Milfoil and weeds cannot grow in this very deep water) as a permanent mitigation .

LCC has also asked for better water quality improvement at Belvoir Park, and Waterway #1 and #2 in the neighborhood "to compensate for the larger footpring onof non-navigable water that will result from the bridge." And also asked of WSDOT is for them to be required to undercoat the bridge for a lastung sound mitigation as well.

Colleen tells us that DPD will be reviewing all of the collective oral and written comments and ask WSDOT most likely for more information, and/or to provide additional mitigation measures to the City of Seattle before issuing a permit to WSDOT.

Work would begin when the western part of the bridge is funded which is approximatel between two to fifteen years. The floating portion is funded, and could begin in 2012.

Colleen says it is important for "our neighbors to take some time to write up concerns about this massive concrete bridge, and the need for mitgation to add more recreational access to the waterways through improvement in the water quality in Union Bay."

Comments will be received throughout the review processand can be sent to

Here is LCC's letter to DPD:

The Laurelhurst Community Club Board of Trustees (LCC) has reviewed the proposal for the Seattle shoreline mitigation and permit process for the re-build of SR520.  While there has been no public dialogue yet for this permitting and planned mitigation, we ask that the City of Seattle and WSDOT extend the deadline for issuing the permits until full information is available with a complete analysis of the proposed mitigation.

      Our comments include the following concerns:
  • LCC objects to issuing the shoreline permits in Union Bay for a 6-year time frame to construct SR 520 as excessive. Normal permits have the maximum length of 2 years, with a potential1 year extension. A longer process will adversely impact the habitat and wildlife migration and nesting patterns for such a long duration that they will be permanently displaced. The American Bald Eagle remains protected under The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 ( federal rule 16 USC 668-668C), prohibiting any disturbance of nest sites and habitats. Permitting 6 years of noise and construction will disturb these nesting patterns of the bald eagles that inhabit Union and Portage Bays.  In addition to the bald eagles, there is documentation of over 85 species of birds in Union Bay, including 18 rare and 7 very rare birds that could lose their habitat.
  • LCC is concerned that the proposed mitigation for the greatest loss of 1.21 acres of the Class 1 Wetlands is not commensurate with the damage permanently caused to this state treasure house of wildlife. The proposed mitigation sites for Class 2 and 3 wetland development are on located in the Arboretum (a different part of the bay), and miles away, in upland sites, not class 1 type in Magnuson Park, Seward Park, Taylor Creek and Cedar River which are not the same pathway from the permanent and migratory nesting areas of these rare, irreplaceable species.  No detailed information has been filed with these permit applications on how these Class 2 and 3 wetlands will fulfill the functions of the Class 1 wetlands that will be destroyed.
  • LCC requests that WSDOT also submit a timeline for completion of any proposed mitigation measures.  Mitigation should be completed in the impacted neighborhoods to the maximum extent before using other sites in more remote locations. 
  • LCC also requests that mitigation be applied to improve shoreline recreation use. The new profile for the rebuild of SR520 is sited 100 feet closer to the residential shoreline to the north, twice as high, and twice as wide as the existing 520 structure. With that severe impact, the precious Seattle recreational experience on Union Bay will be adversely reduced in quantity of open space and quality of the water itself.  The permit application shows no specific analysis or plan for shoreline recreation improvement, and is incomplete. 
  • Part of the mitigation for S520 should include improvement of the water quality in the bay, possibly dredging more navigable recreational water passageways, and/or permanent destruction of non-native aquatic plants such as water lilies, Eurasion milfoil and Brazilian elodea. This could be administered through affected organizations such as Save Union Bay Association, the Seattle and Queen City Yatch Clubs, the Center for Urban Horticulture, and the University of Washington crew team sports groups.  
  • LCC requests that WSDOT and the City of Seattle implement a mitigation plan that includes a series of walking trails and integrate street ends along Portage and Union Bays to replace some of the damaged ones that will be removed with the SR520 re-build, and provide improved access to recreational waterway users, such as kayakers.  
  • LCC expresses concerns that the Preferred Alternative plan will create more permanent shading in Union Bay. It is a very large increase of 2.6 acres. This shading will increase the habitat for bass fish that are the predators of (protected) salmon whose migration path has been documented through the Montlake Cut. WSDOT has not mitigated adequately for this new profile. 
  • LCC asks that the City of Seattle request a narrower bridge profile through Union Bay to minimize the shading for protecting salmon .  
  • In addition LCC requests that WSDOT should work with the City of Seattle to improve conditions in the existing Union Bay (as above) with dredging or permanent removal of the milfoil which would create more open waters away from the new shaded area for salmon to swim through freely, away from the shading of the new bridge. Currently, the non-native aquatic weeds are too thick for the salmon to swim through, and also create warmer water on the surface (due to water lily coverage). These factors make it an adverse environment for spawning salmon to pass through. Thus, migrating salmon would be forced to the greater shaded areas created by the bridge profile, and subjected to their demise by the bass hiding in that expanded environment.
  • Mitigation for removing the non-native invasive aquatic weeds would be an important mitigation measure, directly improving Union Bay, rather than mitigation miles away.
  • LCC notes that the survey of depths of Union Bay is incomplete. The Army Corps of Engineers, the State Department of Ecology and the City of Seattle  require a survey and flag delineation of wetlands edges and to date, no flags have been posted. Thus WSDOT's permit request from the City of Seattle is incomplete as the mitigation measures are directly predicated on its depths and classification.  Save Union Bay Association has a complete (June, 2010) survey by Herrera Environmental Consultants delineating the depths of Union Bay, and its data is not the same information in the permits listed above. This data should be linked, and verified before The City of Seattle issues any permit or signs off the mitigation plan for Union Bay.  
  • LCC requests that the City of Seattle have a planting plan from WSDOT that has an appropriate timeline and plant content that is satisfactory and commensurate to plant materials that will be destroyed and damaged with the construction process of the SR520 rebuild. All trees with over 6 inches in diameter and large shrubs should be inventoried, as well as WSDOT providing a plan for temporary locations and re-planting of them should be included in any mitigation plan before issuing permits. 
      In summary, one of the EIS and SEPA’s purposes is to provide consideration and full disclosure of the environmental impact factors at the earliest possible stages to allow decisions to be based upon complete disclosure of environmental consequences.  In this case, WSDOT'S mitigation and permit requests plans requested from the City of Seattle are incomplete. The rebuild of SR520 will profoundly impact all of the City's Class 1 wetlands, Lake Washington, Union and Portage Bays, the Arboretum, adjacent neighborhoods, and its citizens who use these areas for water recreation. 

      The Laurelhurst Community Club requests that a more comprehensive shoreline permitting and mitigation plan be submitted by WSDOT before the City of Seattle issues permits. With better information, the affected stakeholders can work together to be certain that these irreplaceable resources are best protected in the mitigation process.

      Thank you for considering the comments of the Laurelhurst Community Club. It is important that communities be informed and involved in the process and that whatever proposal results reflects the needs of our city consistent with state, federal and all shoreline laws.

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