Is Parks being straight with the public?

The conflict over putting a mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace has brewed for over a year and a half now. Seattle Parks just issued a Determination of Non Significance (DNS) – basically saying that there will be no adverse environmental impact if a mountain bike park is installed in Cheasty. 

The letter below is a guest post from Donna Kostka, currently a member of the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, but writing as a private citizen.


RE:  Parks’ Cheasty Pilot DNS, DPD reference # 3020881
To: Jesus Aguirre, Superintendent, Seattle Parks and Recreation:

Your department on August 3, 2015 issued a Determination of Non Significance (DNS) on the Cheasty Greenspace Pedestrian and Bicycle Trails Pilot Project, 2627 South Andover St, Seattle 98144.  I am writing you as the responsible official to comment on the DNS within the 14 days provided.  Note that your department did not offer the public the opportunity of an official comment period.

You are new to Seattle and to this project.  Welcome.  I urge you to read my comments and take them to heart.  I am writing to assert that Parks should have issued a Determination of Significance for this project – and could still do so as part of the SEPA process.

My attached comments illustrate the contradictions, assumptions, and insufficient basis upon which Parks has based its DNS.  Together, I believe they create reasonable doubt that a DNS could stand if brought before a hearing examiner.  And they also show why the Cheasty project has been so controversial.  I have written one question many times:  “Is Parks being straight with the public?”  I doubt it — based on the unsatisfactory level of much of Parks’ DNS/checklist analysis. The public needs to regain confidence that Parks will not inflict damage on the City’s beloved natural areas. I urge you to steer a correction in course and complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) on this project.

I am writing as a private citizen.  However, I currently occupy the urban ecologist seat on the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) and have served four years recently on the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners.  In my role on the UFC, I probably have become as knowledgeable about the Cheasty project as most park commissioners.  In addition, I hold a PhD in outdoor recreation planning and ecology, and am a retired National Park Service staffer – also a retired “certified ecologist” by the Ecological Society of America.  Attachments 1 & 2 contain my review of the DNS and Attachment 3 of the checklist.  Attachment 4 reflects policy issues.

I request to be an official party of record on this project and to be notified of Park actions.

Sincerely,
Donna Kostka, Phd

CC:  Ed Murray – Mayor, City Council, Rachel Acosta for Seattle Board of Park Commissioners


ATTACHMENT 1 —
COMMENT ON (ONE-PAGE) DETERMINATION OF NON-SIGNIFICANCE.

Page 1, Description of proposal, line 3:  The proposed action is described as a “perimeter” trail, but it is not entirely along the edge of the property.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

ATTACHMENT 2 —
COMMENTS ON (MULTI-PAGE) CITY OF SEATTLE ANALYSIS AND DECISION OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SEATTLE PARKS AND RECREATION, SIGNED BY DAVID GRAVES JULY 22, 2015.

Page 1, Summary of Proposed Action, line 2:  The proposed action is described as a “perimeter” trail, but it is not entirely along the edge of the property.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 2, Proposal Description, First paragraph, line 1:  The word “perimeter” is used again.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

First paragraph, Lines 5 & 6:  The proposal is described as a “three year pilot project.”  Parks’ website describes the project as a 15 month pilot project.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

First paragraph, close of last sentence:  Missing is disclosure that additional phases of the project were described by Park staff during public meetings.  Mountain bike trail advocates recently have come out with a trail map titled “Beacon Bike Park” containing “jumps, drops, and a free ride zone” for that location.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Third paragraph, lines 1, 7, & 8:  The text contains words “little disturbance” and “minimizes impact” and “without cutting into the face of the slope.”  Yet, trail design  on the web shows placement of pins up to eight feet long to anchor the trail in place.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Fourth paragraph, lines 3 & 4:  The text says the trail “will require some modifications to avoid areas of observed instability and seepage.”  Yet, those modifications are not revealed or analyzed.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 3, continuation of paragraph from previous page, last sentence:  The geotech report’s first recommendation is to avoid areas of instability.  Parks has not demonstrated avoidance of unstable areas in its analysis of environmental impacts.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 3, Analysis – SEPA. second paragraph, line 3:  The text states “it shall be presumed such regulations are adequate….”  Yet it does not provide evidence upon which to base the presumption.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 4, Long Term Impacts: Noise, line 2 – The text states “bicycles are not significant noise generators….”  Yet, no basis for this statement is given.  Some trails are quiet and some are very loud.  In fact, a culture develops along some trails where riders whoop when they reach certain destinations and/or play loud music on devices.  What will develop at Cheasty is an unknown, in my opinion.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Long Term Impacts: ECA, first paragraph, line 4 – The text states that methods are “designed to minimize the disturbance of the ECAs….”  There is no analysis cited describing the impact of minimal changes to the ECAs, as if there is an assumption that minimal changes are acceptable.  I have previously called to Parks’ attention, that because Parks has not counted the number of individuals of each wildlife species, there is no way that impacts can be determined during or after the pilot project is completed.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

05
Skunk Cabbage in Cheasty wetlands

Long Term Impacts: ECA, second paragraph, lines 3-4 – The text states a bridge or boardwalk will “limit the disturbance of the wetland….”  However, I am writing as a private citizen to cite the UFC letter of recommendation to Parks stating that long term studies are necessary to determine the source of water in the wetlands and the elevation of water that can be expected.  I believe that without these UFC recommended studies, Parks will not be able to judge the elevation on which to place each bridge or boardwalk and to determine whether fencing is necessary to protect the public or the wetland.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 5, continuation of Long Term Impacts: ECA, second paragraph, throughout – The text states an assumption that compliance with a City ECA Ordinance is sufficient to warrant no conditioning of the determination.  Yet, the construction and use of eight foot long pins to support trails is not addressed.  Nor is there an analysis of shaking of soils and hard usage of soils over tree roots caused by bicycles speeding down trails.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 5, Long Term Impacts: Historic Resources, paragraph 2, lines 4 & 5 – The text states the park will serve “predominantly local residents without the need for on-site parking.”  No basis for this assumption is presented.  The basis could be wishful thinking.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 5, Decision, question of which box to check – I believe the “Determination of Significance” box should have been checked with an EIS required.  Too many questions have been raised with an insufficient basis upon which to judge impacts.

ATTACHMENT 3 —
COMMENTS ON (MULTI-PAGE) SEPA ENVIRONMENTAL CHECKLIST UPDATED 2014 FOR CHEASTY MOUNTAIN BIKE/PEDESTRIAN TRAIL PILOT PROJECT, SIGNED BY JON JAINGA ON JUNE 4, 2015 (DATE CHECKLIST PREPARED MAY 20, 2015).

Page 2, #7 answer – The text states “several connecting trails could be future additions to this project, including a cross-connecting trail….”  Yet, the DNS does not mention this fact or analyze the cumulative impacts of future phases, and therefore contradicts the DNS.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 3, #8 answer – The text does not mention trail features that mountain bike trail advocates want.  A recent trail map titled “Beacon Bike Park” showed areas in the park containing “jumps, drops, and a free ride zone.”  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 3, #11 answer, first paragraph, line 2 — The proposed action is described as a “perimeter” trail, but it is not entirely along the edge of the property.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 4, continuation of #11 answer, second paragraph – The text in this checklist mentions “boardwalks and timber retaining walls.”  The DNS mentions a bridge and boardwalks and pins and thus is inconsistent with the checklist.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

  1. Environmental Elements/Earth

Page 6, “d” on “history of unstable soils” answer on 2) Above an existing soldier pile wall…,” line 9 – The text states “…based on appearances, is likely ….”:  The soldier pile wall was a major expense for the Seattle Housing Authority at the Rainier Vista construction site.  To make an assumption based on appearances about the cause and the engineering details of this wall is no basis for a DNS.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 7, continuation of paragraph from previous page, lines 3-4 – The text states “probing…extended only up to 3 feet….”  I am writing as a private citizen to cite the UFC letter to Parks about long term wetland studies recommended as necessary to determine whether the source of water in the wetlands is due to surface or ground water and the elevation variability that could be expected during a year.  I believe that without such UFC recommended studies it is not possible to determine at what elevation to place bridges or boardwalks or determine whether fencing is required to protect the wetlands or the public.  That letter can be viewed at:

Adopted letter on Cheasty Greenspace Hydrology Issues

Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 7, g answer – The text states that 2.3% of the site will be covered by impervious surfaces….”  Yet,  the answer in the document’s question 11 on page 3, line 3 states that the design “consists of a soft surface bike and pedestrian trail….”  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 9, continuation of 1) surface water, first three paragraphs – The text describes how Parks believes that the protections in the City’s ordinances and in federal and state regulations will protect Cheasty wetlands.  The third paragraph, however, states that “wetland impacts could be avoided by using soft surface trails …”  I repeat my comment on page 7, g answer, directly above, which shows the contradiction in information given by Parks on page 3 and on page 7.  Is Parks being straight with the public?  Also, I repeat my comments given as a private citizen which reference the UFC hydrology letter.  I believe ordinances and regulations do not protect wetlands if Parks does not undertake necessary hydrology studies.  Is Parks being straight with the public?  (refer to comments on page 7 continuation above)

Pages 11-15, plant lists from designated locations – Data in tables are poorly presented.  The term “SPA” is not spelled out so the public would know what it means.  There is no recognizable header at the top of the columns of numbers, so the public would know what the numbers represent — numbers even with decimal points.  Size of vegetation is not available.  All data were collected in October and November of 2013, nearly two years ago.  More vegetation is likely to have grown in the interim.  And the source of the data is not given to tell the public it was done by a knowledgeable person.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 15, b. what kind of vegetation will be removed or altered; answer, line 4 — The text states that 1.17 acres of shrubs, understory and invasive plants” will be altered.  It does not state what percent this is of the total acreage.  Page 3, question 11 answer states that the total acreage is 28.4 acres.  So, about four percent of the site will be altered.  Only the edges of trails will be revegetated.  It would have been helpful to the public to reveal this information, especially because under the discussion of wildlife habitat, it could be pertinent.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 16, b on threatened and endangered species – This section of text appears to be misplaced.  It refers to animals, and it is located in a section on plants.  The “c” question is missing.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

03
Cooper’s Hawk nest in Cheasty

Page 18, question 5 on animals, section a, line 8 – The text conjectures on species “that likely inhabit” the site.  Yet, in my Attachment 2 comments on long term impacts, ECA, I say that because Parks has not counted the number of individuals of each wildlife species, there is no way that impacts can be determined during or after the pilot project is completed.  Date and source of Parks’ information is not presented.  It is not evident that a census was taken during various times of the year to represent summer breeding and winter resident birds,  A neotropical migrant Swainson’s thrush is not likely to breed in the area because it requires deep woods habitat of considerable acreage.  The Cooper’s hawk nest in plain view on the site was not mentioned.  This is a species with a wide range; only a few have been spotted in Seattle.  Also, the four percent decrease in habitat caused by trail construction may have an impact on some species.  Each species’ range is different and would have to be assessed independently.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 18, c, migration route – The text does not make sense:  “no none migration route known.”  The text does not mention that Seattle is part of the west coast flyway for many bird species.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 20, b. what types of noise…, 1-3? – The text answers this question by discussing only noise from construction.  However, as stated in my comment on page 4, Long Term Impacts: Noise, line 2, noise can be present during operation of the trail.  Some trails are quiet and some are very loud.  In fact, a culture develops along some trails where riders whoop when they reach certain destinations and/or play loud music on devices.  What will develop at Cheasty is an unknown, in my opinion.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 21, h. Has any part of the site been classified as a critical area…?  The text lists five ECA categories found at Cheasty.  I believe this question in the checklist should have struck a chord with Parks – five ECA categories could be impacted by the Cheasty project.  The enormity of the damage that could be done hangs over Parks’ head.  And yet Parks decided on a DNS without the benefit of a full environmental impact statement analysis.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Page 24, c & d on parking and pedestrian facilities – Parks claims the bike/pedestrian trails will serve “predominantly local residents without the need for on-site parking.”  No basis for this assumption is presented.  The basis could be wishful thinking.  Also, pedestrian access from Cheasty Blvd. is complicated with several crossings of the street required.  There is no planning for additional safety measures for pedestrians.   Is Parks being straight with the public?

ATTACHMENT 4 —
COMMENTS ON POLICY ISSUES CONNECTED WITH THE CHEASTY PROJECT.

Parks’ use of “perimeter” in describing the Cheasty project – I conjecture that Parks’ work on the Cheasty project got started with the word “perimeter” in the project description, and that word never was deleted.  Even though Parks departed from the perimeter location of the trail, the word still persists in the project description.  It is now a misnomer and a falsehood.  Is Parks being straight with the public?

Parks’ support of a pilot Cheasty project and draft supplemental use guidelines for natural areas/greenbelts in contradiction of 1993 policy – The 1993 policy on natural areas and greenbelts adopted by the City Council states:

“The purpose of greenspasces designation is to establish priority areas for preservation to 1.Help preserve natural landscape and habitat for wildlife,2.Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity 3.Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution 4.Help reduce the necessity for constructed stormwater systems 5.Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land.  Greenspaces, with their natural environmental character, will only be used for low impact activities and will complement the city’s parks and recreation system where open space maybe used in a more active manner.”

In my opinion, Parks has supported both a Cheasty pilot project and revised draft guidelines for supplemental uses of natural areas/greenbelt, even with August 4, 2015 additions, in contradiction of this 1993 policy.

I am writing as a private citizen to cite the UFC letters regarding the supplemental use guidelines. These recommendations can be viewed at:

Second UFC letter regarding Parks’ August 4, 2015 revised Draft Supplemental Use Guideliness for Natural Areas/Greenbelts

Note that UFC recommendations bring the contradiction between the guidelines and the 1993 policy to the City Council’s attention and urge the Council to get involved in discussing policy on this issue.

Is Parks being straight with the public?

Cheasty Greenspace
Cheasty Greenspace

Images used courtesy of Mark Holland
and Friends of Cheasty

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