The messy environmental situation over at the city's joint training facility in South Seattle seems to have gotten a little muckier, now that green groups have asked the state to step in again to protect the already damaged wetlands.
On Aug. 27, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) sent a letter to the state Department of Ecology warning that the city is planning to divert water from a portion of Hamm Creek. Diverting the creek's flow would send water spilling into the stormwater system, the letter claims, and not Hamm Creek's watershed.
This would be permissible, if the city had received what's known as a "water right," which the state requires when the course of any waterway is to be altered. But, according to CELP, the city never obtained one.
But why would Seattle want to divert the water in the first place? Because the city must fulfill a legal requirement it has with the Army Corps of Engineers to fill in wetlands that used to form the creek's headwaters. And why were those wetlands filled in? Because when the city was constructing a joint police/fire training facility between South Park and White Center in 2005, it needed solid ground to site the building. So the city filled in the original wetlands with soil -- an illegal act -- to provide the earthen foundation it needed. Now the city must perform environmental mitigations to the wetlands it destroyed back then, by creating artificial wetlands.
Rachael Paschal Osborn, director of CELP, says she doesn't know how long it will take the Ecology Department to investigate. In the meantime, she says that her organization and others are trying to get the word out, which has led to the group contacting city councilmembers.
But Osborn suggests that it might be a good idea to consider how these wetlands -- which became the focus of international attention thanks to the late Seattle environmentalist John Beal -- have suffered over the years. The creation of artificial wetlands rarely works, she notes. Says Osborn: "Why don't we stop and think about whether we should be destroying these wetlands in the first place?"