Council approves city code regarding critical aquifer recharge areas, hears fire service options

Councilmembers and Mayor Mike Rosen listen to William Sturgeon of Fitch and Associates present an assessment of options for future fire services.

Two major pieces of business before the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night were whether to approve a city code amendment regarding critical aquifer recharge areas (CARAs) and to learn more about the city’s options for fire and emergency medical services. The council voted 6-1 to move to a future consent agenda the staff-recommended amendment to the CARAs, which are established to protect groundwater and public drinking supplies from potential contamination and to ensure adequate groundwater availability.

The vote on CARAs came despite a request from several residents who asked the council during public comment to instead approve an earlier proposal — from 2023 — that they said would be a more cautious approach to the issue until more is known about how to best treat per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. They are also called “forever chemicals” because of how long they take to break down in the environment and people’s bodies. According to this Washington State Standard report, PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940s to manufacture industrial and commercial products, including goods like nonstick cookware, carpets, and raincoats. They’ve also been a common ingredient in firefighting foam used at sites like military bases, airports, and refineries.

CARAs are treated as critical areas under the state’s Growth Management Act. When city code was last updated in 2016, it stated that no areas meeting criteria for CARAs existed in the city. However, in 2022, Edmonds was alerted to two CARAs in the city’s jurisdiction when the Olympic View Water and Sewer District appealed the city’s SEPA Determination of Nonsignificance (DNS) for a stormwater code update. While the water and sewer district’s appeal was denied by the hearing examiner, staff committed to updating city code to reflect the presence of possible CARAs within city boundaries.

The two drinking water wells are Deer Creek Springs near the Town of Woodway and at 228th Street Southwest — both supplement the drinking water that Olympic View purchases from the City of Seattle. Among those commenting Tuesday was Olympic View Water and Sewer District General Manager Bob Danson, who reiterated his belief — expressed during a public hearing on the issue last month —  that he still had concerns about city’s proposal to allow shallow underground injection control (UIC) wells at Deer Creek Springs to control stormwater runoff as a method of protecting water quality.

“Stormwater does contain pollutants,” Danson said. Olympic View completed a sample study at Edmonds’ Madrona School “that does show there is PFAS in that stormwater apparently being sent down in the UIC wells that are going into our water aquifer layer.”

He pointed to recent action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a legally enforceable maximum level in drinking water for the chemicals, which have been linked to cancers, heart and liver problems, and developmental damage in children. “The levels at the Madrona School are actually above those EPA limits,” Danson said.

Acting Planning Manager Mike Clugston said the city’s CARAs proposal, which comes after a year of staff study and review by the Edmonds Planning Board, “represents the best available science that we have uncovered over the past year. It’s consistent — and exceeds — Washington State Department of Health and the Department of Ecology standards.” In addition, the stormwater portion of ordinance would be automatically updated as the Department of Ecology gets new information about different contaminants, including PFAS, he said.

Council President Vivian Olson moved to approve the proposed code, stating that after carefully studying the issue, she believed that the current science supported the staff-recommended approach. However, Olson did say the city could do more to protect CARAs,  including educating residents and business owners in those critical areas about the importance of not washing their cars or using pesticides to avoid contamination.

Olson then proposed an amendment that any new projects involving tire crumb rubber should be prohibited in CARAs, noting that it is one of the chemicals listed as problematic in the Olympic View Water and Sewer District’s water supply protection guidelines.

Olson’s amendment generated a discussion among councilmembers about the idea to eventually revive a broader ban on tire crumb rubber use citywide. The Edmonds City Council approved an 18-month ban in 2015, with the idea of revisiting it as more scientific research became available. It was extended several times but is now expired, city staff said. Olson’s amendment to include a ban on crumb rubber in CARAs was approved by a 5-2 vote. Councilmembers Jenna Nand and Will Chen voted no, stating that they preferred to have a broader discussion with the community about the idea first. When it came time to vote on the final CARA language — including the approved crumb rubber amendment — the sole dissenting vote came from Councilmember Michelle Dotsch, who said she was concerned about how future development would increase the chemicals in stormwater.

In other business, the council heard a fire services feasibility assessment report from William Sturgeon of Fitch and Associates. The council hired the firm to analyze the costs of various options for fire and emergency medical services, now that South County Fire has put Edmonds on notice that it intends to terminate the current interlocal agreement for fire and EMS services effective Dec. 31, 2025. The city currently pays South County Fire $12 million annually, and fire and emergency medical services costs are a concern due to recent budget challenges.

South County Fire in 2017 reorganized into what is now the South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue Regional Authority. As a fire authority, the agency can be funded directly through property taxes rather than receive payment from the individual jurisdictions that contract for fire and EMS services. In essence, this means that property owners would fund the RFA directly, rather than pay taxes to the city, which would use these funds to pay for emergency and fire services from the RFA. To move from an individual contract to being part of the RFA, voters in each jurisdiction need to approve this change. So far, the cities of Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Brier and Mountlake Terrace have voted to join the RFA.

Sturgeon explained that Fitch initially looked at four options for the city to consider in future fire services:

1) Joining the existing RFA

2) Bringing back the city’s own fire department.

3) Entering into a contractual relationship with Shoreline Fire.

4) Separating the city’s fire and emergency medical services (EMS) and contracting for EMS only.

Fitch did not recommend pursuing option 4, because no advanced life support private ambulances are operating in Snohomish County.

With a focus on the other three options, Sturgeon explained Edmonds’ particular needs for fire and EMS. Edmonds has more than 19,471 housing units and more than 1,642 non-residential buildings, including offices, professional services, restaurants, churches, schools and health care facilities. Of those commercial buildings, 109 are considered high risk based on the number of stories, required fire flow and sprinker systems. Edmonds has also seen a 12% increase in fire and EMS call volume since 2019. South County Fire had an average of 16.8 calls for emergency services daily in Edmonds, with 86.2% of those for emergency medical services.

There are three fire stations located in the city — Station 16 in Maplewood, Station 17 downtown and Station 20 in Esperance. There is also a water rescue boat at the Port of Edmonds.

Sturgeon shared information about the current South County Fire staffing for the three Edmonds stations, adding that Fitch believes that the agency is using “a lean model.”


When it comes to deploying personnel for fire and EMS. South County Fire has “an effective response model,” Sturgeon said. For example, “it takes a significant number of people” to extinguish a residential fire, he said, adding there are many tasks required. “And that’s why they send so many people.”

There are financial considerations for any of the three options explored by Fitch, and Sturgeon went through the pros and cons of each.

Annexing into the RFA — at an annual estimated cost of $17.8 million — would ensure the city could maintain its current level of fire and emergency services. Edmonds also would no longer be responsible for the fire dispatch fees it pays to Snohomish County 911, which is $401,107 in 2024. On the minus side, joining the RFA would increase the levy rate for taxpayers. In addition, the level of service Edmonds would receive would be governed by an elected board of fire commissioners rather than the City of Edmonds. This option would take 18-24 months to implement.

Contracting with Shoreline Fire — estimated to cost $24.9 million annually — would provide Edmonds with services similiar to those it now receives through South County Fire. On the minus side, there are many variables in this scenario that would mean uncertainty for Edmonds. Approvals would be required by other agencies — including the King County Council — and the City of Edmonds would need to purchase equipment to provide fire and EMS services. This option would take an estimated 24-26 months.

Reestablishing a City of Edmonds Fire Department, disbanded in 2009 due to cost pressures, would give the city control of its emergency services. However, there are several disadvantages to this option, including the challenge of recruiting and retaining personnel and the need to purchase apparatus, equipment and firefighter protective gear. New apparatus is currently taking 20-36 months for delivery, Sturgeon said. “It’s a heavy lift to create a fire department from scratch,” he added. The estimated annual cost for this option is $19.2 million. In addition, an estimated $6.75 million would be required for capital and start-up costs. And, Edmonds fire stations need remodeling, rebuilding and relocations at cost of approximately $20 million. The timeline for this option was estimated at 36 months.

Sturgeon offered the following graphic summarizing projected costs and savings:

Sturgeon said that Fitch also looked into the possibility of reducing the number of Edmonds-run fire stations and changing its staffing models. A one-station model would significantly impact response times, he said. Reducing the number of stations would also mean that those remaining stations would need to be relocated for maximum effectiveness, which would cost money. In addition, the city would still need to rely on mutual aid from other agencies when their own units are tied up — and could result in a service charge per unit, he said.

Finally, Sturgeon offered a graphic that summarized the next steps for implementing any of the three options:

During the time allocated for for councilmembers’ questions, Susan Paine asked about the staff training required if the city went with its own fire department. Sturgeon explained the myriad tasks involved with this, from writing new policies and procedures, to learning the response routes and where the fire hydrants are. These tasks along with other training are likely to take four to six months, he said.

Will Chen wondered why Fitch’s estimate for fire costs if Edmonds moved to the RFA were $17.8 million when Edmonds is currently paying $12 million. Sturgeon replied that was the amount Fitch determined from the fire authority’s 2024 budget for Edmonds services. That gap also indicates why South County Fire canceled its contract with Edmonds, he said.

Vivian Olson said that the city council and administration want to hear from members of the public about their preferences for fire services and she encouraged residents to share their opinions.

Jenna Nand said that given the timelines involved with all of the choices outlined, it’s important for the council to put the question of RFA annexation before voters as soon as possible. “If they reject annexation, we’d have to explore other options,” Nand said.

You can view the presentation graphics here. A final report from Fitch will be delivered to the council next week.

The council also:

Brittany Ahmann expresses her thanks for the Earth Day proclamation, while Mayor Mike Rosen looks on.

— Heard Mayor Mike Rosen read a proclamation regarding Earth Day 2024 — officially on April 22 — with Brittany Ahmann from Sound Salmon Solutions accepting.

— As part of its consent agenda, approved the appointment of candidates for various city boards and commissions: Lee Hankins and Steven Li for the Edmonds Planning Board, Todd Stine for the Architectural Design Board, Karen Reid for the Edmonds Sister City Commission and Beth Henkes for the Edmonds Arts Commission.

— By Teresa Wippel




  1. In relation to the discussion about the use of crumb rubber, KUOW did an excellent piece on this subject back in February which is worth listening to. One thing that stood out to me was the amount of regulation that governs the sale, use and disposal of tires and the fact that there are NO regulations in place for that same material after it has been ground down into crumb rubber. It is also notable that this material is a major source of the chemical 6PPD-quinone which is fatal to salmonid populations in our waterways.

    The link to the KUOW report is below.

  2. It looks like the Faithful Four “whatever the city planners want” rubber stamp crew has turned into the Solid Six “whatever the city planners want” rubber stamp crew. The great news is that the Deer Creek Water Shed and clean drinking water supply is now officially declared “safe” for installing drain fields directly from roofs into the ground water for all the new “affordable” homes that are going to spring up in the area. I know that’s true because the head of the planning department said so in order to help the Solid Six make their law suit preventing decision based on City Attorney legal advice.

    I urge everyone in town to take a walk or drive up Bell Street Hill off 7th. Ave and look at the home building lot in progress that the Planning Dept. has approved in order to get a good idea of what future Edmonds is going to look like. As to fire, you can plan on voting for or against the option to join RFA. Anyway you slice it we are going to have much higher property taxes and probably little to no real say (as a town) about the service we get and at what cost in the future. More cost and less control. Such a deal!

  3. Good Summary, thank you! The CARA code will be coming back on consent and Council can pull it for further discussion regarding this new code.

    Folks, there is still time to convince CMs to rethink their decisions. Please watch the testimonies of citizens on this matter of rolling back and approving the 2023 PB approved code.

    WHY??? Well, it’s pretty simple – this code rendition allows more development in the Deer Creek Watershed for stormwater control using wells or piped rain gardens (staff gave many methods for digging) for the “affordable housing” that Director McLaughlin said would happen.

    Does Council really want to gamble away our pure drinking water for more development?

    Comp Plan Update process/sequencing has been biased towards development and transportation from the start. So, write Council to be more protective of that unique area and watershed.

    Perrinville watershed is ruined because of poor decisions and development. Let’s not repeat history under this Mayor.

    BTW, I’ve heard one reason for new code is our Attorney talk of lawsuits? Well, has anyone thought of the lawsuit that might come from Woodway City Council or a class action lawsuit from citizens that are part of the OVW jurisdiction?

    Please, Council, give the citizens at least one year and repeal current law and replace with the 2023 code. Listen to the scientists and experts! Rethink!

  4. Last night’s 7-1 vote on the language protecting the 2 aquifers in town was ‘practice’ for the 2024 council. It was their first vote on a development vs environment issue. The stakes will rise this summer as the council prepares the preferred growth alternative for the city wide draft environmental impact statement, and wrestles with the mitigations that are needed to repair the damage caused by development. The staff, the planning board, and the Olympic View Water and Sewer district staff have been working on code development for about 18 mos. They did not come to consensus on one key topic- one of the methods for managing infiltration of stormwater into the aquifer recharge area. Why did the council pick sides, and go with the staff’s advice? Why didn’t they refuse the suggested language and instruct staff to continue to work with the water district and reach consensus? My observation is that Olympic View has a reasonable position and has worked to reach consensus in the past. More basic services are cross-jurisdictional these days. Edmonds should not take the easy way out by choosing sides on this one. Consensus on stormwater management is possible. (My water is provided by Olympic View). Council – Pull this topic off the consent agenda next week, and instruct the staff to find consensus with Olympic View.

    1. Theresa my friend (and we are friends in real life), I just have to remind you that technically the Council cannot or should not instruct the staff to do anything. It’s the Mayor’s job to instruct the staff. It’s also not the staff’s job to get all pushy with things like, “we simply have to do it this way because it’s for ‘affordable housing,” at city council meetings. Staff is supposed to simply dispassionately present the options and let the Council debate and vote on the options about everything. To Mayor Rosen’s credit he is allowing the Council to actually ask his staff some tough questions, which they are not used to; as past mayor’s have always bent over backwards to control council member interactions with their staffs during city council meetings. Our city government is a work in very, very bumpy progress (we hope). As a totally inappropriate but curious aside, how come so many really smart women are named Theresa or Teresa? Conspiracy I suspect.

  5. Fire and EMS services are one of the most critical services for our community. None of these options would be in place before the current contract with South County Fire expires 12/31/25. That should concern every resident. I would hope that now that we have a new Mayor, he is working with South County Fire to see if they will reconsider termination of their contract. And that all our voters recognize that a tax increase will be necessary, whether we like it or not.

    1. Jamie, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that the South County Fire Authority will stop providing services in 12/25 and that there’s a risk of a time where we have no fire services. the fire authority is in control of when the 24 month clock started ticking. Remember that the fire authority has voter elected commissioners. If there is even a teeny gap of 1 hour without fire services in Edmonds after the contract is terminated, all elected commissioners should be voted out of office. I encourage you to point your message at the Fire Authority. In my mind, two sets of politicians could have a dispute over providing a non-essential service and thereby create a gap where there are none of that particular service in the city until the dispute is resolved. But it is an entirely different matter when first responders enter into a dispute and create a gap in providing their services. Have you read the contract? What are the provisions to prevent a gap in services? Regarding my use of the term ‘dispute’. I don’t believe there is a dispute between the Fire Authority and the City. The City has been paying a bargain price for years. The other citizens who live in the annexed jurisdictions have been picking up the bill. It’s time for Edmonds residents to pay our share.

      1. Theresa, I have no real objection to paying a lot more for fire service because that is unavoidable (if you can’t afford it you will have to get a county property tax exemption or move) ; but I do have an objection to ever letting non city management people run it. We either have city boundaries of significance or we don’t. If fire, why not police? Just counting beans is not always the right answer to our problems and cheaper isn’t always better. I think that was the mistake when it first happened and it will be another mistake now as we have a real option to just make it our own again, but that option will get almost no real consideration as minds are already made up that RAF is the way to go. That is if the citizens vote for it, which they probably will.

      2. South County Fire has been clear, they are terminating the current contract on Dec. 31, 2025; they are not terminating fire or EMS services that date. If no other arrangement is yet in place, services would continue on a contractural basis, but at a much higher rate than Edmonds has been paying. At no time will Edmonds risk not having fire or EMS protections.

  6. Theresa Hollis, I think we are on the same page. My point is there should be another option at looking at trying to continue the current coverage but paying more for it, which will require an increase in taxes. It still will be the cheapest option and the safest option for our community.

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