Map courtesy of SPU
A map of possible blocks for the roadside rain garden project. Click to expand map.

Ballardites cautiously optimistic about SPU’s roadside rain garden project

When it comes to “Phase II” of Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) roadside rain garden project, Ballardites are “Cautiously optimisitic.”

That’s the pulse the Ballard News-Tribune got from talking with residents who attended SPU’s open house at the Sunset Hill Community Club on Tuesday, Feb. 12. It also appears to be the case according to a survey of residents that SPU conducted at the end of last year.

The survey, which was mailed to 3,290 households on Dec. 19, out of which 786 households responded, shows that 51 percent of residents in the project area support the roadside rain gardens. Out of those, 27 percent were very supportive.

Still, some retain reservations. 33 percent were unsupportive, out of which 21 percent were very unsupportive.

Indeed, the first response one irascible resident gave to the Ballard News-Tribune was, “NO!” That is, no to the whole project, because he thought it was stupid.

His response is most likely the result of Phase I of the project, which resulted in a couple of the gardens turning into muddy pits. At the time, SPU did not do the best job of communicating with residents about what would be happening.

SPU has different people on the project now, though, and they have been more careful in communicating with residents about the project. Phase II, after narrowing down possible blocks, will be shooting for a total of about 20 blocks-worth of roadside rain gardens, which would drain up to three million gallons of stormwater.

It’s just one measure SPU is taking to try and handle Ballard’s problem with combined sewer overflow. In 2011, the neighborhood was responsible for 43 million gallons of untreated stormwater and sewage being dumped into Salmon Bay and the Puget Sound. Ballard’s combined sewer system overflows when so much as a tenth of an inch of rainwater hits the area.

Some residents at the open house were a touch more positive than the gentleman described above.

“I think they’re definitely doing better on the background work to make it work,” said resident Kay Wilson, who expressed her support. “I’m enthused about it, I think it’s an exciting way of dealing with the problem this city has. I know they made some mistakes earlier, but I think they learned from them.”

Skepticism did still remain. People who were witness to Phase I of the project, which resulted in some gardens becoming muddy pits, expressed caution at the open house. However, after a round of soil boring tests, those residents were happy to see that their blocks were not included among the possible blocks for the project. While still skeptical, they were generally positive about SPU’s careful studying and planning.

“I’m less concerned about this phase,” said Jim Bristow, a resident who also happens to install rain gardens for a living as a contractor with SPU’s RainWise program. “They’re picking good areas.

However, he did say he wanted SPU to make sure where the water would go after it drained into the rain garden.

“I think they are doing a lot of the right steps as far as the science, testing results,” said Liz Tennant, chair of the Ballard Stormwater Consortium, a resident group that has been in communication with SPU about the project. “I think that’s good and they are working with us to be more in communication … I’m interested in watching how this proceeds and make sure that there is adequate testing and adequate involvement of the people who are in the neighborhood.”

However, Tennant did express some reservation.

“I think we may need to step back and look at all the costs of all this, figure out the overall goal,” she said. She said she was concerned about the amount of cost for a relatively small-scale project. She was unsure if it could be effectively duplicated and expanded to other parts of the neighborhood.

The entire project has a budget of $2.5 million, according to SPU. This includes budgeting for communications with residents, testing and analysis of soils, all the way up to construction, which would take place in 2015.

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