The Edmonds City Council’s Parks and Public Works Committee Tuesday night heard more about the next phase of work planned for the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector, which city officials say is needed to provide emergency access to the Edmonds waterfront.
The committee also heard about possible changes to regulations governing dogs in city parks and a proposal to increase the city’s water, stormwater and sewer rates.
Because Tuesday night was a council committee meeting, the topic was for discussion only and no public comment was taken. Citizens will have an opportunity to express their opinions when each of these issues appears before the full council.
The city has been working for three years on a plan to address emergency access to the waterfront when both the Main Street and Dayton Street at-grade rail crossings are blocked. This included a 14-month study by a task force of public officials and citizens that examined 51 different options to address the problem. The current waterfront connector concept was approved by the city council in 2017, and the city signed a contract with consultant TetraTech to begin developing a range of pre-design alternatives for it.
Now consultant Parametrix is prepared to begin Phase 2 to complete the 60 percent design, develop the environmental documents and prepare permit applications, Public Works Director Phil Williams told council committee members Tuesday. Anticipated to be completed in 11 months, this phase of the work would cost $2.35 million — all of that covered by state grant money. So far the city has spent $250,000 total on the project, and Williams said he doesn’t anticipate any more city funds going to it until construction starts — and even then, city dollars would be minimal.
“The only way this project ultimately works is to get it ready, get it designed, make it shovel-ready so it’s really attractive at the federal level,” Williams said. “The farther along we get on the project, the easier it is to score higher to get a grant.”
Councilmember Dave Teitzel asked about the likelihood that the BNSF railroad would contribute more to the connector, given that increasing train traffic is a main source of the problem for emergency access and BNSF has so far given just $100,000. “I would think they would own this issue to a great degree,” Teitzel said.
“We certainly are talking to the right people (at BNSF),” Williams answered. “How much they will provide, I don’t know.”
Teitzel also asked Williams if the city had the option — as some citizens have suggested — of taking the grant money received so far for the Waterfront Connector and using it for what they perceive to be a higher-priority project — improving Highway 99 — instead. “It’s not transportable to that,” Williams said. “This funding would not be usable there.”
Williams was also asked if the area’s Native American tribes have expressed concerns about the connector project. He replied that he has received no negative feedback so far, but also noted that the tribes are waiting to see more of the project design. The city has already met with tribal governments that would be affected by the project and those meetings will continue, he said.
Teitzel said another concern he has heard regularly from citizens is that the state ferry system would use the connector for offloading ferries during situations beyond emergency blockages. Williams said the ferry system’s intention is to only use the connector during a long-lasting emergency on the tracks, with a boatload of cars that it must offload.
What the public thinks about the project and the fact that there is organized opposition to it — including a petition that has attracted 5,000 signatures so far — were both topics of concern expressed by council committee members Teitzel and Kristiana Johnson.
“The more outreach we can do, the better,” Teitzel said, adding it would also be helpful to provide background information to concerned citizens on the research that was done regarding the 51 original alternatives and how the city landed on the connector project as the best solution.
“A lot of folks aren’t fully aware of what’s happened to this point,” he said.
“You would be wise to identify them (those opposing the connector) upfront and figure out a way to communicate with them, rather than to passively wait for them to get on board,” Johnson added.
Williams also discussed a possible future increases in combined utility rates (water, stormwater and sewer), summarizing the draft combined utility rate study prepared by the city’s consultant FCS Group. The study recommends an increase in utility rates to cover rising costs that include inflation and the rising maintenance and operations costs, wholesale cost increases from Alderwood Water and Wastewater District (which sells water to the city), and the replacement of aging and failing water, sewer and storm infrastructure. The city also has to fund a replacement system for the city’s aging sludge incinerator, which will cost the city an estimated $9 million.
Funding annual maintenance and replacement projects through rate increases will save the city money in the long run because it won’t have to issue bonds for those expenses, Williams explained.
Under the proposal, which will be the subject of a future public hearing prior to any council decision, rates for 2020-2022 would increase 5 percent annually for water, 9.5 percent annually for stormwater and 7 percent for sewer.
Regarding proposed changes to park rules, City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite explained that the Snohomish Health District had asked the city to support a district initiative to make smoking and vaping in parks illegal. While reviewing that change, Hite said, she and her staff started looking at other possible changes to the city parks regulations.
Among those rule changes presented to the council Tuesday night — in addition to smoking and vaping — were prohibiting people from feeding wildlife on city beaches; changing the description of park hours to clarify they are closed from sunset to sunrise rather than 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and allowing dogs to be in all city parks as long as they are leashed.
Dogs would still be restricted for health and safety reasons from playgrounds, ball fields, the spray park and any of the city’s beaches since they are sanctuaries, Hite said. The city would also put pet waste bag dispensers at all parks to encourage people to clean up after their pets.
Hite said the change is being proposed because residents and visitors alike find the city’s rules about where you can bring your dog “very confusing” — covering “bits and pieces of this park and this park and sometimes no parks at all.”
Hite said a review of cities across Puget Sound revealed that “almost every single city allows dogs in their parks on leash.”
She said she researched the history of how the existing rules regarding dogs in Edmonds parks were established, and learned that they were set decades ago when people were not picking up after their dogs.
That has changed, Hite said, adding that now “people are picking up after their pets.”
The city’s animal control officers favor the change because it would be easier for them to enforce consistent regulations throughout the parks, Hite said.
If the council decides to open up all Edmonds parks to dogs, Hite said, the city would launch a public education campaign urging people to pick up after their animals. The city could also make the changes on a trial basis, and then re-evaluate if it wasn’t working, she said.
The Parks and Public Works Committee agreed to forward this issue to the full council for future discussion.
In other action of note, the committee agreed to forward to the full council an interlocal agreement with the City of Mountlake Terrace for aquatic vegetation removal in Lake Ballinger and presentation of an agreement with the Snohomish County to develop an ongoing water quality monitoring program for Lake Ballinger.
— By Teresa Wippel