Staff disputes Council Member Treen on stormwater standards but evades explanation; stalls action

By Miki Mullor
Editor

For the second time, staff from the City’s Public Works department promotes official statements that contradict the public record.  

Back in August, the City was forced to issue a rare retraction after a traffic planner in the Public Works department said in an email that was widely published that “there was no manipulation of data to favor any type of development.”  The City claimed the email was taken out of context. 

Kent Treen

Now, another Public Works staffer has publicly disputed Council Member Kent Treen’s bombshell conclusion, in his guest op-ed, that in 2013 the City relaxed a critical stormwater standard in the Town Center to ease development costs and that in 2016 that standard was dismantled altogether.  

Treen’s effort to restore the old standard in a special legislation has been stalled by staff.

The public record shows that staff’s public dispute of Treen is inconsistent with City’s own past positions on the issue.  

For two weeks,The Sammamish Comment attempted to interview staff on the issue to address the inconsistency. Staff, who were very quick to dispute Treen in public, now are unable to find time to answer questions by email on the issue. 

A dismantled environmental standard

In his August 13 guest op-ed, Treen raised the issue of a special stormwater standard in the Town Center the City enacted in 2010 and dismantled in 2016.  

Ten years ago, during the July 13, 2010, City Council meeting, Erin Nelson, a stormwater consultant for the City, explained that “the main point with these [proposed] standards is that they will limit offsite discharge of stormwater volumes in excess of pre developed forest conditions.”

Nelson explained how the newly proposed standard is different:

Erin Nelson, Stormwater Engineer

“So how is this standard different? The standard recommended for the Town Center addresses a stormwater volume as well as the peak flow rates and durations that are already addressed in current regulations.” (Emphasis added.)

Nelson continued to explain this is needed because of the location of the Town Center above the headwater of Ebright Creek and George David Creek: “The standard would be protective of natural resources, especially the wetlands, that are located in both the Thompson and Inglewood basins [the basins of Ebright and George Davis’ creeks].”

On the October 19, 2010, Council meeting, City Council voted 6-0 to adopt the newly proposed stormwater Town Center standard:

Resolution R2010-430 followed Nelson’s advice:

This is also known as the “100% onsite retention” standard because it requires that 100% of the stormwater generated by the development is kept on site, meaning it is not allowed to be discharged to the surrounding creeks.

This technical language ensures no additional volume of water will be allowed off the Town Center into the creeks, causing the damage Nelson was worried about in 2010.

Staff disputes Treen on Facebook 

Danika Globokar

In his op-ed, Treen explained that in 2013 City Council lowered the “100%” standard to “60%” to benefit the construction costs for developers, and in 2016 the volume standard was dismantled altogether. 

The day Treen’s op-ed was published, City staff member, Senior Stormwater Program Manager Danika Globokar, disputed Treen’s conclusion in the following comment she posted on Facebook:

Globokar implied that the 2013 “60%” discount to developers has been repealed and thus restored the old “100%” 2010 standard. 

But Globokar did not disclose in her comment that at the same time the “60%” was repealed, so was the “100% volume” standard from 2010, removing all special Town Center stormwater standard.  

City public record is very clear, in bold red font: the 2010 resolution of a “100% volume standard” has been repealed:

A total repeal of the volume standard 

The 2016 action completely removed any water volume discharge restriction on the Town Center, contrary to the consultant’s recommendation in 2010. 

Indeed, Globokar is careful with her words: “100% of all targeted surfaces… must be detained and treated.” This is different from not allowing the water to discharge off the site. As Nelson explained in 2010: “you still have the same amount of water running off into our streams and wetlands and receiving waters.”

Globokar invokes technical terms in the discussion on Facebook with residents to support her challenge to Treen. In disputing Treen, she explained to residents that a “level 3 flow control” is required and it is the “most stringent flow control requirement” specified in the manual. 

But a 2013 presentation by then-City stormwater engineer Eric LaFrance during the December 3, 2013, council meeting, makes it clear the “level 3 detention” is not the “volume limit” control Treen called out and that indeed a “volume limit” is a special addition to the Town Center area:

(source: December 3, 2013 Council Meeting video)

Consistent with the above, Nelson explained in 2010 that:

“[In] our current regulations in Washington and Sammamish, we address the higher peak flows and the runoff with our standards, our traditional detention ponds. We collect the water and then we meter out at lower rates, but we do nothing about the stormwater volume.”

But Globokar implied on Facebook that the old “level 3 flow rate” standard is essentially the same “volume limit” standard Treen was calling out  – which is contradictory to what two different city experts said in 2010 and 2013.

Globokar makes it very clear she was taking an official position on behalf of the city by offering residents to create a public record from her official city email:

An achievable standard – dismantled and ignored 

In 2010, Nelson, the stormwater consultant for the City, explained that “these standards will require implementation of innovative stormwater management techniques in the town center, including implementation of low impact development techniques, which is what we’ve recommended in the stormwater plan for the town center.” 

Nelson was very clear: “so is this standard achievable? We think it is… our preliminary analysis shows that you would need about one acre space to do that. That space could be part of the green space, that it could be a dual purpose area for the buildings. The rooftops rainwater harvesting would be a way to meet that volume standard.”

These are elements of Low Impact Development that was recommended by the 2009 Planning Commission that wrote the Town Center area plan.

(Source: July 13, 2010 Sammamish City Council meeting)

But in 2020, STCA LLC, the Town Center developer, is now saying it cannot be done. In a document titled “PRELIMINARY TECHNICAL INFORMATION REPORT” that was submitted as part of Town Center Phase 1 permit application, STCA says bio-filtration, full or partial infiltration are not feasible. STCA did not even consider treatment space or rainwater harvesting. 

STCA’s plan does not mention water volume control.  Should the council re-enact the 2010 volume control, it may force STCA to redesign its plans. 

Treen’s action delayed by staff 

In his op-ed, Treen called for an immediate action:

“In this commentary, I call on my fellow council members to unite and roll back the breaks being given to developers at the expense of our unique environment in Sammamish,” wrote Treen.

“We need to act before stormwater becomes a water storm.”

Emails obtained by The Comment show that Treen indeed requested the issue be placed on the agenda for the August 18 Council meeting.

By Council rules, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor or three council members can request an item to be added to the agenda. 

In this case, Mayor Karen Moran, and three other council members, Treen, Ken Gamblin and Jason Ritchie, supported the request to add the stormwater item to the August 18 meeting.  A fifth council member, Chris Ross, also supported the request, but for a later September meeting. 

Treen even went further and wrote up a draft ordinance and sent it to City Attorney Lisa Marshall and City Manager Dave Rudat to speed up the process. 

Treen’s ordinance draft, reviewed by The Comment, reenacts the dismantled 2010 volume standard and also revokes staff’s discretion to grant developers variances from it. 

Staff have yet to put the draft ordinance on the agenda, citing workload.

Avoiding tough questions 

Jeff Elekes

In researching this story, The Comment requested on September 18  City’s comments on the findings for this story. On September 24, the City said Jeff Elekes, Director of Public Works, will address it in a later time.  On September 30 the City said Elekes is “slammed” preparing for the October 6 council meeting and didn’t have a timeline on when he would be available to address the question. 

The Comment’s follow up request to interview Globokar remains unanswered. 

Reference:

Update:

A reader, James Jordan, sent the following as a comment to the story:

“These photos were taken during a typical rain at (a) 222nd place se at the Lower Commons Park’s parking lot outfall and (b) at Ebright Creek below the 222nd cul de sac, where the outfall ends up.  Given that the Brownstone developments [STCA Town Center Phase 1] at 222nd place se and se 4th – if approved – will (1) denude the landscape of grasses and heritage trees and (2) then pave over approximately +-10 acres and (3) thus significantly increase runoff, the damage to property and the creek will undoubtedly increase commensurately.”

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5 thoughts on “Staff disputes Council Member Treen on stormwater standards but evades explanation; stalls action

  1. There is no controversy here at all. Ten years ago there was a fad created mostly by Planners (not Engineers) that prehistorically, in a pristine Hobbit land, there was never any storm water runoff so the brilliant idea was to make a rule to not allow ANY runoff. Practically, all stormwater must be infiltrated for that to happen (unless maybe you want to boil it so it evaporates). Imagine if your yard was 100% clay. It would be impossible. 100% infiltration is rarely achievable unless you live on a sand or gravel pit. For these reasons, the 100% retention (infiltration) rule was correctly discarded. It was never required by the State Department of Ecology or by the Federal Clean Water Act. The new/current rules require as much infiltration as possible and incorporate the Best Available Science for stream and habitat protection. There is no controversy here, only a non understanding of practical realities and legal requirements. If infiltration is not possible, the stormwater would have to be boiled off, trucked away, or piped directly to Lake Sammamish.

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