Update with additional details provided April 5 from the Edmonds School District regarding turf fields.
After months of discussion, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night agreed on a response to the Washington State Department of Ecology that would address the appropriate buffer for the Edmonds Marsh as part of the city’s draft Shoreline Master Program (SMP).
The council also moved a step further toward extending for another six months the city’s moratorium on installing turf infill made of recycled tires on all public athletic fields in Edmonds. And it heard details regarding possible future consolidation of the two 9-1-1 emergency dispatch centers that now serve Edmonds residents.
Regarding the marsh buffer issue, the council unanimously approved Option M, the latest in a series of options aimed at addressing the appropriate buffer for the Edmonds Marsh as part of the city’s draft Shoreline Master Program (SMP). Introduced last week as possible way to satisfy the concerns of all stakeholders, Option M calls for a 110-foot fixed marsh buffer and a 15-foot setback. According to the proposed language, any possible alternate buffer width would be derived from a scientific site-specific study, and would be subjected to a shoreline conditional use permitting process.
City staff now will finalize the required response to the State Department of Ecology and bring it back for a final council vote before the end of April.
Before the unanimous vote, Councilmember Dave Teitzel proposed an amendment that would allow for variable buffers at the marsh if the site-specific study “shows it can be applied in a way that preserves and enhances ecological functions at the marsh as compared to baseline conditions.” Responding to other councilmembers’ questions about the proposed amendment, City Attorney Jeff Taraday noted that Option M as it stands would also allow for variable buffers, through a conditional use permitting process. The amendment ended up failing on a 3-4 vote, with Councilmembers Teitzel, Tom Mesaros and Neil Tibbott voting in favor and Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Kristiana Johnson and Mike Nelson voting against.
On a related marsh buffer issue, the council also agreed to defer for a few weeks discussion on the details of the scientific study aimed at establishing 2017 baseline ecological conditions. That’s because Taraday — the original author of Option M — won’t be present for next week’s council meeting.
Speaking to the crumb rubber ban, Councilmember Dave Teitzel said he was in favor of extending it, since there are still studies underway on whether the material poses health risks. “At this point, I think there’s more information needed and it behooves us to be careful about what we do here and make sure we have all the facts before we make a final decision,” he said.
The research is expected to be released by the end of 2017, so extending the ban until February 2018 gives the council two months to assess those study results and make a final decision, Teitzel said.
Teitzel was one of three councilmembers on a committee that studied the issue and made a recommendation that the ban be extended an additional six months. The other committee members were Mike Nelson and Kristiana Johnson.
The city’s December 2015 ordinance that placed a moratorium on crumb rubber installation was scheduled to sunset on July 11, 2017 unless the council extended it or adopted a new ordinance. The ban was approved following months of public testimony before the council and discussion among councilmembers about possible health and environmental impacts of the artificial turf infill made of recycled tires.
The issue first surfaced in Edmonds in spring 2015 after citizens became aware of a plan by the Edmonds School District, under an agreement with the city and the Verdant Health Commission, to tear out natural grass fields next to the former Woodway High School (now known as the Woodway Campus) in the Edmonds city limits and replace them with crumb rubber.
Following an outcry and protests, efforts by crumb rubber opponents to convince the school district to install an alternative infill failed, and two of the fields were installed in summer 2015. Then in 2016, the school board agreed — after a lengthy discussion about alternative infills –to move forward with using crumb rubber to replace existing turf fields in schools outside of Edmonds — at Mountlake Terrace and Meadowdale high schools.
The city’s moratorium on crumb rubber fields applies to all publicly-owned land in the city, including that owned by the school district. A month before the council approved the original ban, in November 2015, the city received a letter from school district’s legal counsel, stating that such a ban “would impair the district’s ability to implement its educational programs and would constitute an unprecedented overstepping of the city’s authority as applied to school district facilities.”
During Tuesday night’s discussion about extending the ban, Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas reported she and other councilmembers received earlier that day — as an apparent reminder of the district’s stance — that same 2015 letter, attached to an email from Stewart Mhyre, the district’s executive director, business and operations. Mhyre requested that the letter be entered into the record during the meeting.
Fraley-Monillas then asked City Attorney Taraday about “the legalities” of the district’s letter. “Given all the research that’s being done and the potentially significant health consequences,” Taraday said, “if in fact the substance is as harmful as some people believe it is, I would just be very surprised if a court told the city that we could not take a time out on using this substance until some of these questions were resolved.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine a court doing that,” Taraday added.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” Fraley-Monillas said. “We just don’t have enough information, I believe, to make a decision.”
Councilmember Neil Tibbott asked Hite if the school district had any upcoming projects planned involving crumb rubber fields in Edmonds. Hite replied that the district is planning to replace the Edmonds-Woodway High School baseball field with turf “in the near future.”
Edmonds School District spokeswoman Debbie Jakala confirmed Wednesday morning that the Edmonds high school’s baseball field is scheduled to be replaced with turf infill in summer 2018.
In the end, the council agreed to move the ban extension to its April 11 consent agenda for final approval.
When asked if the district had a response to the council’s intent to extend the ban, Jakala said, “We are going to let the letter stand as our response at this time.”
Also on Tuesday night, the council heard from the officials representing Snohomish County’s two emergency dispatch centers –SNOCOM and SNOPAC — regarding a possible future consolidation of the two entities. The merger save money and also solve a potential public safety issue related to call transfers between the two.
Speakers included Terry Peterson, director of the SNOCOM 9-1-1, which serves South Snohomish County; Angie Baird, Finance & Administrative Services Manager at SNOPAC 911; and Karen Reed, a consultant who is facilitating the merger discussion.
Both SNOCOM, located in Mountlake Terrace, and SNOPAC, in Everett, were founded in the 1970s and are staffed 24 hours a day to answer police, fire and related emergency calls. SNOCOM serves roughly 30 percent of Snohomish County’s population while SNOPAC serves about 70 percent.
Showing a map of both agencies’ service areas, Peterson noted that in the blue area — served jointly by SNOCOM and SNOPAC, “there is a service deficiency for how 911 calls are routed. He then pointed to a red line on the map, explaining that all calls coming from the south side of the line are routed to SNOCOM, while all calls on the line’s north side are routed to SNOPAC.
SNOCOM is charged with dispatching fire for the area and SNOPAC dispatches police, so as a result an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 calls need to be transferred annually. “We concluded there is 21 seconds of what I call wasted time, or time on hold, for each and every transfer,” Peterson explained. That translates to about 11 days worth of hold time per year.
A joint task force on the consolidation, which includes Edmonds City Council President Tom Mesaros and Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan, has been reviewing the issue more closely for the past eight months. Also on the task force is a representative of the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System (SERS), which provides radio services for police and fire. Should there be a consolidation, the question of whether SERS should be part of that new entity will also need to be addressed.
The task force looked at 10-year budget forecasts using options involving full consolidation as well as those that would improve service while maintaining stand-alone operations. “With the fully consolidated model, we believe there’s a potential savings of at least a million dollars annually,” Peterson said. Consolidation is the only option that completely resolves the transfer issue, he added.
Consultant Karen Reed talked about possible options for governance if the two agencies are consolidated, since each has separate boards. A total of three options are out for review and the hope is to have additional discussion about them at a task force meeting later in April, Reed said.
The bulk of the potential savings comes in the combined staffing model — the task force estimates the merged agency can operate with 15 fewer FTEs (11 dispatchers and four supervisors) than they do today. Labor savings would be achieved over time through attrition and not through layoffs.
If a merger occurred, the SNOPAC call center — located in the same building as the Everett Police Department South Precinct — is large enough to accommodate both operations for the next 10 years. Additional parking would be required, as would renovation of vacant building space for additional offices.
The task force has recommended keeping the SNOCOM facility as a “warm backup” so it could be used in case of emergencies, at a cost of about $200,000 annually, which brings the total savings — with reduced FTEs — to about $1.1 million. Warm backup is described as maintaining the Mountlake Terrace location as it is, with existing equipment and a functioning power and water supply — but without employees.
Each of the 50-plus participants pay a fee to their respective call center to cover the service. Due to the predicted cost savings due to the merger, it’s estimated that the City of Edmonds — which currently pays more than $1 million annually, would see its annual assessment for police and fire dispatch lowered by 24.2 percent or $250,000, Peterson said.
The task force has asked the finance officials of the affected agencies to review related financial documents, and over the summer a new interlocal agreement — along with a transition budget and timeline — will be prepared. If all goes well, in late 2017 affected agencies will receive another briefing along with a proposed agreement. The new combined agency could start work by June 2018, Peterson said.
Mesaros noted that as a task force members, he approached the SNOCOM/SNOPAC merger with the objective of improving service of Edmonds residents at no additional cost.
The fact that the consolidation would offer improved service at reduced cost “is just remarkable,” Mesaros said.
In other action, the council:
– Approved an interlocal agreement with Snohomish County that outlines the city’s responsibility for accepting county funds for waterfront redevelopment of the beachfront that runs from in front of the Edmonds Senior Center and the continued walkway south. The county has awarded $125,000 to be contributed toward the project. City staff have completed an request for qualifications process to select a designer and will be bringing forward a design contract to the council soon.
– Agreed to move to next week’s consent agenda a proposed agreement with Snohomish County PUD for redundancy power for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
– Discussed possible changes to the city council’s current meeting format, including a return to the council committee structure. Councilmembers vetted several possible proposed structures for meeting again in committees, but there was no consensus on the best approach. Council President Mesaros said he would synthesize the ideas and bring them back at a future meeting.
— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel