Monday, November 21, 2016

Neighbors Concerned About SDOT's Work At Union Bay Natural Near SR520

A concerned neighbor wrote to the Laurelhurst Blog about trees that have been cut down in the Union Bay Natural Area, near the Center for Urban Horticulture, saying:

It appears many trees have been cut and so much vegetation torn out of the "natural area" and pretty much cutting down all growth in the areas they marked sensitive?  Why is SDOT doing this?  Is there a roadmap or anything that will make me feel better about them tearing the whole place up?  I find it hard to believe anyone could look at it and feel ok about the way people are treating the "natural area" in the neighborhood, or, as their sign puts it, their "natrual" area.  

Another neighbor complained about so many trees being removed and received this response from "someone involved in the planning":
Shorebird habitat requires open sites, so shorebirds can see predators coming. Such predators exist at UBNA: Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins (small falcons) like to hunt their bird prey by hiding in dense cover and then bursting out at speed to "pounce" on unwary birds nearby.In addition, Peregrine Falcons come here as well - they too use cover to conceal their attack, by flying low and then bursting into view at the last minute.  
Because willows and woody shrubs (both native and non-native) have been planted (both by humans and by nature) around Central Pond and have grown to cover nearly all the shore, the shorebirds have effectively ceased to use it.  
WSDOT, UWBG, and birders all say we should keep this habitat for shorebirds. The UWBG and birding communities simply want this habitat to be real, used by real birds in real time - not a plan on paper that will not do what the plan calls for.  
Seattle Audubon conservation scientists have concluded that if the woody vegetation were removed around Central Pond and if the current levels of grasses, sedges and cattails were kept at Shoveler's Pond, shorebirds would return. I concur - it has been only in the last few years that Central Pond has become too overgrown for the shorebirds to use it.

WSDOT says the UBNA mitigation project:

The UBNA Mitigation Project is a partnership between the UW and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to create and enhance existing wetlands and replace invasive and non-native plants with native wetland plants, that will improve the areas that buffer them from adverse effects. The mitigation supports and continues work previously begun by the UW as part of the 2010 UBNA Shoreline Guidelines, and mitigates for adverse effects from the SR 520 West Approach Bridge North project, currently under construction in the Montlake area. When complete, the UBNA Mitigation Project will have added and enhanced approximately 22 acres of wetlands and buffer areas at the UBNA site.

Jean Enerson with King5 posted the above picture and tweeted:

.@wsdot putting in a new road , plowing under natural habitat, chopping trees in area you marked "sensitive"!  Who cut all the trees down in UBNature Preserve?  Those are logs are brought in specially to form new wetland habitat… a WSDOT project to transform an old landfill to a wetland What is the plan for Union bay natural area. Is a builder? or preserver?

Jean also posted the below picture on Twitter saying:

.@wsdot .So . This is what you are doing to the sensitive area you are "protecting"!?

Connie Sidles, commented on behalf of the Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) saying: 

I am trying to gather information myself, but it is hard as the UWBG throws it into WSDOT's lap, and WSDOT is unhelpful.  There was a planting plan that dates back some years ago and how closely the contractor is adhering to it is unknown.  
The plan generally calls for:
• 30% additional canopy on the site

• removal of non-native plants in the mitigation areas (this is what the piles of chips are for, I believe)

• planting of "buffers" around all the ponds (buffers being, as best I can tell, impenetrable thickets designed to keep out dogs and people)

• four tiny open areas around Main Pond that are supposedly for shorebirds but are nonfunctional for them

• conversion of the Dime Lot (E-5) into wetlands, probably swampy wetlands rather than marshy wetlands

• elimination of the gravel road leading to the Dime Lot, so no human access to any of the areas both north and south of Wahkiakum Lane here

Many neighbors have concerns, which don't seem to be included in the plan: 

• Why were the native cattails around SE Pond eliminated? This was great nesting habitat for Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Virginia Rails, Cinnamon Teals, and possibly Wilson's Snipe, among others (including even a Song Sparrow one year)? What will be installed instead? Unknown.

• Why were the tall trees at the north end of the Dime Lot cut down? This was great foraging habitat for Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Bustits, Bewick's Wrens, and other conifer-loving species. Unknown. BTW, whoever responded that only one small willow was cut down is incorrect. All the tall trees on the northwest side of the Dime Lot were cut down.

• Why can't the basin dug into the Dime Lot have sloped edges instead of steep ones? Sloped edges covered with soil would provide habitat for shorebirds.

UWBG and WSDOT are correct in saying there was an extensive public process, however it didn't address the concerns, nor did it respond in any positive way to environmentalists' requests for functional shorebird habitat, even though the initial parameters of the plan called for this.  
We have lost our formerly great shorebird migration through UBNA, a wondrous phenomenon of nature that used to happen in both spring and fall, bringing thousands of shorebirds through here each year. UBNA, known by birders as Montlake Fill, was a world-famous shorebird site. That is now gone, unless the contractor can convert the new Dime Lot into functional habitat. 

To do this would require the creation of open mudflats, with sufficient open line of sight so shorebirds could see predators (falcons and hawks) coming in time to escape. My understanding of the planting plan for this part of the mitigation is that swampy vegetation, including willows, will be planted all around the new basin. This will provide habitat for ducks and geese, birds that already have plentiful habitat all around Seattle. It will probably also be used by shorebirds for a short time, until the vegetation grows up tall, as has happened with similar ponds at Magnuson Park.

Dennis Paulson, one of the world's foremost experts on dragonflies, and shorebirds, pointed out that buffered, woody vegetation around ponds is also very poor for dragonflies. He believes we will lose these creatures as we have already lost shorebirds. 

It is very sad for us to have a unique opportunity (both money and land) to restore shorebirds to the city, and to lose this chance. It is just as sad to have an opportunity to enhance habitat for native dragonflies and to lose this chance. The design of the restoration was entirely in the hands of human beings. Humans could have made this site a place that actively helps shorebirds on their long migration to and from the Far North and that delights us all. Birds will still live at Montlake Fill and migrate through here in spring and fall. But they will be birds already common all around Lake Washington and throughout the city. The birds that really needed our help will not get it.

Fred Hoyt, Associated Director, with the Center for Urban Horticulture said:

We have been involved in the design and implementation of this SR 520 Mitigation project.  This is a Washington Department of Transportation sponsored mitigation project and information is also on our website 
This mitigation that is taking place in the Union Bay Natural Area is a WSDOT project that the UW agreed to let them construct in the Union Bay Natural Area.  There are a number of signs surrounding the project that show what is taking place.  There is wetland creation, buffers, enhancement, and invasive plant removal that are part of the mitigation for SR 520 rebuilding.   
The trunks laying on the ground were brought in from elsewhere and stockpiled for use in the created wetlands. “Coarse woody debrisis an important addition to wetlands for nutrients. 

As far as tree removal is concerned, to the best of my knowledge, there has been only one small willow removed from the west side of the old E5 parking lot.  I believe what the neighbor is seeing are trees that came from another site which are in piles.  These trees trunks are to be used for habitat creation. 

Fred is offering to take neighbors on a tour of the site to see the construction and can be reached at

The project is expected to be finished by Spring 2017. And approximately 10 years following completion there will be a period of monitoring and maintenance to verify mitigation goals have been met

The Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA) is an undeveloped, 74-acre nature reserve and outdoor research laboratory on the north end of Lake Washington’s Union Bay, less than a mile north of SR 520. For many years, the land served as Seattle’s largest garbage dump. After the landfill was closed in 1966, work began to restore the site to a more natural environment. The land, just east of the University of Washington (UW) campus, is now owned by the university and managed by the College of the Environment.

    Here are construction impacts as listed on the website: 
    • Up to 50 days of trail closures: In order to maintain safety for trail users, the contractor will need to intermittently close the trail along Wahkiakum Lane and the Loop Trail. The contractor is permitted to close the trails for up to 50 days but is required to keep the trails open over the weekends.
    • Restricted construction areas: The contractor will install orange fencing and stakes around project boundaries, research plots and key areas that need additional protection during construction.
    • Staging areas: In order to minimize impacts to the traveling public, the contractor plans to stage construction equipment and offices in the E4 parking lot and near Douglas Road Northeast.
    • Vegetation removal: In order to provide access for construction equipment to the work areas within the UBNA, the contractor will prune select trees and vegetation. The contractor will also remove selected non-native plants and replant with native wetland plants.
    • Restricted construction during bird nesting season: In order to protect nesting birds, the contractor will not be permitted to conduct certain construction activities between March 1 and July 31, such as vegetation removal and excavation. Some activities such as materials stockpiling and other staking activities will be permitted as long as the work does not disturb nesting sites. All construction activities will be monitored by WSDOT and the contractor to ensure that the construction activities do not disturb nesting sites.

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