SPU: We want to work with community on roadside rain garden project

We reported on a letter exchange Monday, Dec. 16 where members of the Ballard District Council felt that Seattle Public Utilities was not doing all they could to collaborate and consult with the community.

Representatives of Seattle Public Utilities followed up with the Ballard News-tribune to say they want to make every effort of working with the community. However, as they have been gathering data, they did say they have yet to engage the community as they should be.

On Saturday, Dec. 22, a piece of their community engagement will begin as a new survey will be hitting resident's mailboxes asking questions on how SPU should go forward. We will have a separate report on what that will look like sometime today.

In yesterday's report, we missed another follow-up letter sent by Andrew Lee, CSO Reduction Program Manager, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 3:14 p.m. -- just 14 minutes after Catherine Weatbrook, Chair of the Ballard District Council, sent hers.

In it, Lee said they are open to a more formal committee.

"I had assumed that the Ballard Stormwater Consortium which consists of Liz Tennant, Sharon Costello, and Kim MacDonald was already performing that function. We are open to expanding the role of that group as necessary or desired, or creating a different group," Lee wrote.

At the District Council meeting, Tennant said she had hoped for a more formal group than the Stormwater Consortium.

We will update if we hear anymore about the creation of a community advisory committee.

Regarding Phase 1, SPU spokesman Andrew Ryan said one of the mistakes SPU made was that they did not accurately represent what the rain gardens would look like. At the time, they had depicted designs of fully grown rain gardens, when in fact it would take two to three years for the gardens to grow.

Starting out, rain gardens are like any other garden: mostly dirt.

"That's one of the mistakes we made ... we didn't communicate what they would look like," he said. "People ended up with big muddy pits in their front yard. And that's not a good way to make friends."

Part of the reason why SPU has not been communicating as much in the past couple months, Ryan said, is because they are still gathering data and measurements to present to the community, as well as identifying possible locations for roadside rain gardens.

SPU representatives are adamant in saying that they have learned their lessons from Phase 1. Weatbrook in her letter expressed concern that they had not.

"Regarding technical lessons learned, I really want to challenge the assertion that we haven't learned anything from Ballard Phase 1," Lee wrote. "Our entire approach to this current project has been influenced and redefined by the experience of Ballard Phase 1."

Ryan expressed a similar sentiment.

"We learned a lot of what we should be doing, not least of which is communicating with the community."

Most likely, SPU will begin engaging more with the community in January, at the start of the new year.

There will be a community meeting on Feb. 12 at the Sunset Hill Community Club to discuss the progress and the future of the Phase 2 roadside rain garden project.

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