Letter to the editor: Let’s start a focused discussion on what to do with Union Oil property — Ready? Go!

Editor:

It is so amazing to see all the great thoughts MEN readers have on so many topics. The logic, passion, and commitment to ideas is beyond description. The Connector: signs, people, petitions, and all the social media stuff show us all that when folks focus on an idea … things happen. The key is often getting all folks focused, like the rays of the sun through a magnify glass.

Rebecca Elmore-Yalch set the stage of some creative thinking in her MEN Letter to the editor: Three takeaways from the Connector controversy. It is a carefully crafted piece causing us all to reflect on how we can do better in the future. Some felt they did not have the opportunity to contribute during the formation stage while other felt they were limit on what they could talk about during the public sessions.

Many of us have had the opportunity to participate in the 3 Practices sessions. It was a learning experience for us all to listen more intently and to ask questions more thoughtfully to help us all to understand what is being said while not passing judgement on what was being said. Great conversations and I would guess all who attended and learned some of the practices are better equipped to comment and seek a clearing understanding of what others are saying.

The goal for this discussion is to provide a “focused” discussion on a topic in a way to generate ideas from MEN readers. Gathering ideas early can lead to a better public process on important issues. With Teresa’s permission and endorsement there are some proposed “suggested rules” to keep us on track.

  1. Stay on topic and save analysis and criticism of ideas from others for later.
  2. Try to build on the ideas of others
  3. Try not to use the ideas of others as a trigger to trot out what has already been said elsewhere.

The first step will be to generate ideas. When the generation of ideas slows we will summarize and build another discussion session which will allow a more critical analysis of the ideas and likely begin to encourage a more complete discussion of some of the ideas presented and blend in other competing “real world” issues like costs, feasibility and public wishes.

The first topic (and maybe last if this discussion does not produce new ways of thinking and working together) is:

“We the public, via the State of Washington, are about to become the owners of the Union Oil property south of Dayton, west of State Hwy 104, and east of BNSF tracks.”

As background you can read about the what the State of Washington says about this property in the ferry system strategic plan. You can also find a great deal of detail in the study work that was done to assess emergency access to the waterfront.

The initial ownership will be us, as State of Washington taxpayers. Another angle could be to look at the site as potential owners as taxpayers of Edmonds. The third angle is to look at the site as potential buyer or user if the State decides to sell or give the property to others like a developer, the school district or Native Americans.

Put on your 3 thinking caps (State, Edmonds, others) and start generating some ideas of how we can use this property.  It is about 22 acres, retail value of $20M to 30M.

Here’s an idea that has been kicked around to get us going on ideas and how best to present them for this discussion.

“Edmonds needs parking for Ferry and Train commuters, Waterfront Center Users, Visitors for every day activities and special events like Art Fest, Taste of Edmonds, and July 4th, Saturday market and others. We have 700 plus employee parking permits.  Use the area for parking and develop a shuttle system to meet the needs for some of these activities.”

See that was easy — give it a try and offer your idea.

Darrol Haug
46 years in Edmonds and counting.

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26 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Let’s start a focused discussion on what to do with Union Oil property — Ready? Go!”

  1. An open park that connects City Park to Marina Beach (with footbridges or tunnels to cross road/rail). Loop trail system. No cars. Waterfront festivals can overspill into it (as they feel a bit crammed at the marina).
    One can dream…

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      1. Matt, this is just the first step in the focused discussion. The second step will provide a summary including ideas that are supported by more than one person. Then we will craft the next step in this focused discussion.

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  2. We need to remember that the Edmonds Marsh is right next to that property. There are plans to free the streams going into the marsh from their current route through 1600 foot pipes, so that the marsh can once again be a functioning saltwater estuary and the streams can once again provide salmon habitat. The route for those streams goes across the property. Whatever we do, that needs to be part of the consideration.

    I would like to see it become a park with paths for enjoying nature plus an environmental education center as a tourist attraction as well use by schools. Do we really want to pave over more nature? If you walk there, you will see there are some wonderful trees that have so far managed to escape “progress.”

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  3. Would you please, be clear about the property? i.e., description and pictures including the exact property, roadways, neighbors

    While I’ve never been there or seen it, immediately my mind is thinking about the fiasco the city of Shoreline has had with the waterfront property at Richmond Beach and the proposed development there

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    1. Not 100% sure this is the right site (please correct me if wrong!), but a bit of googling turned this up…
      https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/gsp/DocViewer.ashx?did=48875 – Unocal Edmonds – Posterboards Open House August 2015
      http://www.unocaledmonds.info/default.aspx?ID=36 – aerial photo at bottom w/ site highlighted
      https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/documents/0709063.pdf – page 3, nice large area map

      Don’t want to sidetrack the discussion, but I’ve gotta go look into the Richmond Beach fiasco thing. New to the area and that is one of my favorite beaches around!

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      1. Wade, good background on the site including some of the clean up efforts. Thanks for staying focused. What may be a part of the next steps in this discussion is for more information about the clean up process, and what that process will produce with regard to the uses of this site. Stay tune, but in the meantime do you have any suggestions for the use of this property if you were the State or the City or just something other than a governmental entity?

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        1. I’m mostly with the keep it natural crowd. A park w/ loop trail sounds especially nice! Am a strong supporter of daylighting the creek as well. But progress waits for no one, so I think trying to solve the beach access over/under the tracks should be considered. In other discussions around parking here in the lively MEN comments section, I’ve also liked the idea of a free shuttle from a slightly removed lot to downtown. (I’d also like to see this shuttle run up to 99 and back. Selfish, but I live just far enough away that we drive downtown, several times a day, and we’d love to have an alternative)

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        1. Victor this discussion is not about the Point Wells development in Shoreline. The description I provide and that Wade provided will help you zero in on the property we discussing.

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    2. Victor you can go to Google Maps and see the area being discussed. Just look for Edmonds Marsh and HWY 104. The property is south of the marsh and west of 104. If you have ideas on how this property can be used just jot them down so all can see your input.

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  4. My thought would be to keep it as natural as possible, with the restoration of Deer Creek in the daylight, being paramount in my mind. A natural creek flowing into the Salish Sea, Wow! The Marsh and nature boardwalk viewing area nearby, double Wow!

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  5. I would like the marsh to get the stream back, to allow the marsh to be a healthy functioning ecosystem and to have a nature trail/boardwalk on that side installed. I would be ok with a one-lane emergency road that crosses the tracks or goes under the tracks… and is closed unless there is an emergency – a road that pedestrians can walk as part of the beach trail, but that can be opened IF there is ever an emergency – solves the problem the city was trying to fix without ruining the beach, and gives nature a chance to recover there.

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  6. A public amenity that restores some habitat and connects the waterfront and Marsh to City Park would be great. The City also lacks sports fields and is too dependent on the financially insecure school district for youth and adult athletic leagues and clubs. Before everything is built out or carved up the City does need to acquire more open space for sports. We have a growing youth population playing soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, etc. and all competing for limited space. No new space has been built and this priority sidelined because of fighting over crumb rubber. Meanwhile Lynwood, Shoreline, MLT and pretty much everyone else is upgrading their facilities and people are driving away from Edmonds for these types of actitivities. That’s team fees, fan dollars, tournament dollars, tons of consumer activity that we lose out on. People don’t pay an entrance fee to a City park, but they do pay to play on city owned fields year round, rain or shine, day and night. That helps with maintenance costs for the more passive elements of our park system.

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    1. Great points on the lost revenue stream and other opportunities from a lack of athletic fields (also did not realize that Edmonds had a shortage of such facilities!), but I wonder if this small, odd shaped space has room for more than a field or two. Twenty two acres sounds like a lot, but I don’t know how many acres a soccer field or baseball field takes up (thanks google, ~3 acres for soccer and 4 for baseball, links at bottom) and I also don’t know how level this property. Think it is pretty hilly though. Off to look for topo maps!
      https://www.reference.com/sports-active-lifestyle/large-soccer-field-acres-ee96b999a031a49
      https://ballfields.com/baseball-field-dimensions/space-needs-of-a-ballfield/ – this one is especially nice as it includes things like space for parking etc

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  7. Thank you to Wade Brewer for providing links showing where the property is. It is sad that many people don’t know where the Edmonds Marsh is and that even more don’t know about the natural area on the south side where the hatchery and demonstration garden are. The UNOCAL property is adjacent to that area and if it were made into a park, people would know about it and be able to enjoy it.

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  8. If the 22 acres were added to the about 22 acres of the current Edmonds Marsh we would have nearly 45 acres. I know that the area of the Unocal site is utilized heavily by ducks and geese, as well as California quail and on occasion a green heron, as well as many others. It would seem to me that while more parking may be desirable, more public green space is even more so. Once destroyed, such areas are not easily restored. Compared to the developed areas we have little enough wildlife habitat and places that can give contact with the natural world and some respite from the bustle of daily living. Besides, if Willow Creek is daylighted, it will, as I understand it, have to flow across the site.

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  9. Thanks to all who have participated to this point in our focused discussion. It has been wonderful to see us talk about ideas without tossing word bombs that look like D Day. That was the plan and so far so good!
    Well, as promised when writing the original piece “When the generation of ideas slows we will summarize and build another discussion session which will allow a more critical analysis of the ideas and likely begin to encourage a more complete discussion of some of the ideas presented and blend in other competing “real world” issues like costs, feasibility and public wishes.” Here we go with Phase 2 of the focused discussion. There were several good ideas presented and most boil down to “parkland, paths, playfields. A couple of parking and safe ways over the tracks. With the main ideas will come the challenge of “how do we pay for it”

    Some data points: Rounded but pretty accurate. If others have better data just share it!
    With our $11Billion tax assessment base a $.10/1000 creates over $1M even if the tax is for one year. You all can do the math of more than $.10 and/or more than one year.
    Civic Park: Land $4m, projected improvements $8m. We are currently short $3.5m?
    Marsh Restoral: $13m, council has pledged $1.3. $11.7 short.
    Day Light Creek: $17.5m.
    Marsh and Creek combined is $30m, we need a State easement of us to dig the creek.
    Parks and paths cost money and we do not have a sustainable funding source for parks.
    “We can always use bonds” and have our kids pay for it later.” Pay now and it’s a $1, bond and pay later it’s near $1.50 financed over 20 years. But what is the source to pay off the bond? Author’s snide remark: “must be from some revenue steam we do not know about or a shift of a future taxes”
    Let’s begin some more focused discussion dealing with the financial issues of the ideas already presented. Should we use our Budget Reserves? How about an earmarked tax? Use bonding authority? Grants? (some would say “that’s our money too”)
    Hoped for discussion: Just ideas and opinions of how to pay. Please do not toss word bombs at someone’s idea. I am “curious to know” what we can learn together?
    Please add new “use ideas” if you want. Some ideas may even help to pay for the one’s already mentioned???

    Here’s a start: We should use our existing taxes dollars through some prioritization process and if we are short of money to do all that we want then we should raise the money with an ear marked tax. Find what ever grant money we can but it will likely not be enough.

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  10. One quick comment about use first. A friend pointed out to me that there is actually an at grade possibility for “emergency vehicle access only” in that area. It looks to me like that possibility would require some serious collaboration with BNSF and some sort of hot line communication system for possible decoupling of trains.

    As to paying for these things, Darrol makes good points about insufficient funds for parks and other things we actually crave and need in Edmonds, and the high cost of bonding as a means to get them, particularly parks. Personally I have much less aversion to property taxes for things like parks than some other things, we are asked of our property taxes to pay for. For example, I don’t want to be property taxed so that the ferries might have emergency access to Sunset Ave., or, so that Edmonds can have a convention center on the waterfront to bring in more activity for local business. (Not meant to be verbal bombs, just stating my personal preferences).

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  11. Clint, these are not verbal bombs, just added information and ideas and concepts. All ideas will give us all a better understanding of what folks may see as potential uses and costs.

    You are very correct that an at grade crossing just east of the dog park is possible with the respective agreements. This is exactly what was done in Richmond Beach when they replaced the overpass. In that case the crossing was used by the residents that we without an overpass. In the case of Edmonds it would not have to be that elaborate because it would be used only by emergency vehicles. It would not solve the issue of a long train that extends from Main to Dayton and on the dog park area but it would increase the chance the train not blocking all 3 crossings. We could easily check what was involved in Richmond Beach.
    Also thanks for your thoughts about cost issues. It would be helpful in this discussion that the folks who presented the other good ideas give us some thoughts about financing. Clint did both!

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    1. I’d be curious to know for how many of the 5 incidents identified by the City’s consultant in the 2018 public hearing, in which a train blocked both crossings, would waterfront access have been resolved by an at-grade crossing here. Even if trains are decoupled to accommodate vehicle access at the crossing, after the train reconnects the crossing would be blocked up to 90 minutes for federally-mandated safety checks before the train can move again (ref. https://www-1.kansas.com/news/state/article218745495.html which presents a case determined by a state appeals court regarding the duration BNSF may block at-grade crossings, see https://kvoe.com/news/item/40436-court-of-appeals-sides-with-bnsf-in-chase-county-crossing-case for that story). If the answer is 0, then the new crossing is probably too close to represent a benefit such that money spent to develop an at-grade crossing here would seem to be a waste. The cost of a south extension overpass had been indicated to be greater than the $29M waterfront connector, so perhaps a 10% increase to $32M would be okay for discussion purposes.

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      1. Brian, great question on the 5 blocking incidents. Is that information available somewhere or how can we get it?
        As far as I can tell the study work did not include evaluating truss bridges like the one that was used to deal with the damaged I 5 bridge north of Mt Vernon. Google “Acrow bridge” and you will see numerous examples of this type of bridge. They are simple, removable and require little infrastructure to support. Not pretty but functional if we build it just for emergency vehicles. Then the question is where can we put it to make the least visual impact.
        1. Harbor Square to Port Property. (Port once offered $1.5m, may pay a good portion of the cost)
        2. Any suitable place from Union Oil site to west side. If it were build over the Creek we could let people be on the bridge to view the salmon run! There is already a road on the site to get emergency vehicles to the bridge.
        Since the Ferry system has said they have no plans in the short run this kind of bridge would be ideal because it is removable.
        Hard to find data on costs but probably way lower then the ones studied in the Connector Plan.

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  12. Great additive comment Brian. I’m thinking the consequences of the 90 minute delay after re-coupling, might depend on the magnitude of the emergency. For example, if the Marina was engulfed in flames or an oil train was on fire or derailed, that would probably make the delay a little irrelevant in that it might stop the trains anyway and take days to sort out. On the other hand, if it was just rescuing a coronary victim, it might be very relevant.

    As far as rescuing one, or a small number of individuals, some sort of foot overpass wide enough to accommodate a medical gurney would certainly suffice at minimal cost. That might be something that would work in this spot or even elsewhere in town.

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  13. Make it an extension of the Edmonds marsh for the day lighting project to restore our salmon runs and estuary habitat that was originally here in Edmonds. Green spaces are shrinking all the time and if we don’t protect it now it will be gone forever and turned into an ugly building or lot of parked cars. It’s also contaminated so an extension of the wetland would naturally clean the site over time. Who loves Orcas?! I do, lets help them by restoring this habitat for their food source and also use it to help clean water as it travels through our watershed into the Salish Sea. 🙂

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