Documented Wetlands, Streams and Wildlife
in the Cross Kirkland Corridor
February 16, 2016
Save our Trail, Kirkland WA
This letter was prepared by the Save Our Trail citizen group in Kirkland to ensure all parties are aware of environmental obstacles that may hinder the construction of the proposed E-03a (Light Rail) and E-06 (Bus Rapid Transit) Sound Transit 3 projects as designed on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) Trail. It is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the full gamut of environmental challenges, but rather a compendium of concerns identified to date.
- 3rd party wetland, stream and wildlife inventory studies commissioned by the City of Kirkland, and published as recently as January 2016, have documented many wetlands, jurisdictional drainage, salmon-bearing streams and other wildlife habitats within the CKC.
- Current and planned updates (due by June 30, 2016) to Kirkland’s wetland and stream protection regulations indicate that substantial portions of the CKC are incompatible with any type of motorized transit development. In fact, there are multiple locations where wetlands surround both sides of the trail, creating buffers that are in excess of the 100-foot wide corridor.
- Mandatory mitigation sequencing regulations specifically state that avoidance of modifications of wetlands and streams is the primary guiding principle, and not allowed if a “practicable or feasible alternative” is available, such as Sound Transit’s E-02 Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 proposal.
Along the CKC, many signs are posted that indicate Environmentally Sensitive Areas. As residents of Kirkland and regular users of the CKC, we wanted to understand the implication of these signs.
We observed bodies of water, including wetlands and streams, surrounding the trail and crossing under it. We also heard from people living near the trail, where many properties have recorded documents identifying wetlands and streams with property title restrictions to perpetually protect and preserve these sensitive areas. Those restrictive covenants were imposed on past, current, and future owners in perpetuity with no provisions for termination.
We then reviewed the City of Kirkland GIS maps (Attachment A). This map clearly shows that the stretch of the CKC slated for development as a bus or rail route is encumbered by several wetlands and streams. Some of the streams are identified in red, signifying their importance as fish bearing streams.
We were then made aware of a wetland and stream inventory developed in July 2013 for the City of Kirkland Public Works Department by Widener & Associates (“Wetland Investigation and Delineation Report Cross Kirkland Corridor Project” - Attachment B). The report was part of the trail building project when the BNSF rails were removed and a soft surface trail was constructed. It lists most of the wetlands and streams shown on the City GIS map (Attachment A), plus additional wetlands and streams not documented on the map. This report concluded that the majority of the wetlands and streams were determined to be "jurisdictional," and therefore subject to the Clean Water Act. It also documented multiple palustrine forested wetlands. While they were not rated, these would likely rate as Category II wetlands and would require a 50' or 75' buffer.
In 2015, as part of the City of Kirkland’s process to adopt amendments to its Critical Areas Ordinance by the state deadline of June 30, 2016 (Wetlands, Streams and Frequently Flooded Areas, known as KZC 90 - Kirkland Zoning Code Chapter 90), the City employed the services of the Watershed Company, a wetlands consulting company. The January 2016 report (“City of Kirkland Critical Areas Regulations Technical Report”), along with the City memorandum explaining the need to update the regulations, is included as Attachment C.
This report further identifies multiple wetlands and streams within, near, or under the CKC, as well as fish species in streams that cross the CKC that are considered “Threatened” and “Species of Concern” under Federal Status.
How Do the Current and Future Kirkland Zoning Codes Apply to the CKC?
Given all the 3rd party information, we looked into how the KZC 90 applied to the CKC.
The current KZC 90 clearly forbids development in wetlands, streams, lakes, and their buffers and in frequently flooded areas. These regulations were adopted by the City of Kirkland in compliance with the Clean Water Act, the Department Of Ecology, the Growth Management Act, and other local, state, and federal laws.
It is important to note that these regulations are 14 years old and must be updated by the City of Kirkland by June 30, 2016. As the Watershed Report states about the original regulations, “Since then Ecology adopted a new wetland rating system in 2004 and then updated it again in 2014. Wetland buffers under the new Ecology guidance are greater than the City’s current buffer widths and the rating system is more detailed and uses different criteria. The City must now bring its wetland regulations and rating system in line with Ecology’s guidance to be consistent with GMA.” It is important to note that, as the Watershed Company report states, “Most if not all jurisdictions in King County have revised their regulations to comply with these requirements.” The new regulations, as described on the City of Kirkland web page, will:
- Increase buffer widths required next to wetlands and streams where new development cannot occur;
- Use mitigation sequencing: first avoid, then minimize before buffer reduction can be proposed;
- Impose smaller percent of buffer reduction; and
- Require greater ratio of required mitigation to area disturbed.
Even the current regulations clearly state the need for protecting wetlands, streams, lakes and frequently flooded areas:
THESE REGULATIONS WERE PREPARED TO COMPLY WITH THE GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT, CHAPTER 36.70A RCW. THE PURPOSE OF THESE REGULATIONS IS TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT, HUMAN LIFE, AND PROPERTY. THIS PURPOSE WILL BE ACHIEVED BY PRESERVING THE IMPORTANT ECOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS OF WETLANDS, STREAMS, LAKES, AND FREQUENTLY FLOODED AREAS. THE DESIGNATION AND CLASSIFICATION OF THESE SENSITIVE AREAS IS INTENDED TO ASSURE THEIR PRESERVATION AND PROTECTION FROM LOSS OR DEGRADATION, AND TO RESTRICT INCOMPATIBLE LAND USES.
SENSITIVE AREAS PERFORM A VARIETY OF VALUABLE BIOLOGICAL, CHEMICAL, AND PHYSICAL FUNCTIONS THAT BENEFIT THE CITY AND ITS RESIDENTS.
There are certain activities that are exempt from this chapter. However, a motorized trail is not one of those activities:
90.20 GENERAL EXCEPTIONS
THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES OR CONDITIONS SHALL BE EXEMPT FROM THIS CHAPTER:
5. CONSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC NON-MOTORIZED TRAILS WITHIN THE CROSS KIRKLAND CORRIDOR AND EASTSIDE RAIL CORRIDOR; PROVIDED, THAT (1) THE TRAIL IS LOCATED IN A MANNER THAT, TO THE EXTENT FEASIBLE, AVOIDS AND MINIMIZES IMPACTS TO SENSITIVE AREAS AND BUFFERS SUCH AS PLACEMENT ON PREVIOUSLY DISTURBED AREAS, (2) THE TRAIL PROJECT INCLUDES ON-SITE OR OFF-SITE MITIGATION OF NEW IMPACTS TO AFFECTED SENSITIVE AREAS AND BUFFERS, AND (3) PERVIOUS OR OTHER LOW-IMPACT MATERIALS ARE USED WHERE PRACTICAL.
The zoning regulation clearly states that wetlands and streams are to be preserved and protected with significant buffers. It is fair to assume that these buffers will increase based on the updated regulations from surrounding King County cities.
90.45 WETLAND BUFFERS AND SETBACKS
1. NO LAND SURFACE MODIFICATION OR TREE REMOVAL SHALL OCCUR AND NO IMPROVEMENT MAY BE LOCATED IN A WETLAND OR ITS BUFFER, EXCEPT AS PROVIDED IN THIS SECTION THROUGH KZC 90.70. SEE ALSO KZC 95.23(5)(D)(2), TREES IN CRITICAL AREAS OR CRITICAL AREA BUFFERS; AND KZC 95.50(11), INSTALLATION STANDARDS FOR REQUIRED PLANTINGS – MITIGATION AND RESTORATION PLANTINGS IN CRITICAL AREAS AND CRITICAL AREA BUFFERS. REQUIRED, OR STANDARD, BUFFERS FOR WETLANDS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
The current regulations state that modification of a wetland (stream) is allowed only if no feasible alternative is available (Similar language is used for stream protection, buffer size, modification of streams and modification of stream buffers. Please see KZC 90.90, 90.95, 90.100):
90.55 WETLAND MODIFICATION
J. THERE IS NO PRACTICABLE OR FEASIBLE ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL THAT RESULTS IN LESS IMPACT TO THE TYPE 1 WETLAND AND ITS BUFFER.
90.60 WETLAND BUFFER MODIFICATION
9) THERE IS NO PRACTICABLE OR FEASIBLE ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL THAT RESULTS IN LESS IMPACT TO THE BUFFER.
In this case, there is a documented Sound Transit alternative with E-02 (Bus Rapid Transit on I-405), which not only parallels the CKC, but also crosses it at 116th Street and includes a stop in the same location (Totem Lake). This alternative was identified by the City of Kirkland in the letter of January 20, 2016 to Sound Transit.
In Attachment D (“Wetland and Stream Buffers on the CKC Map”) we tested the application of the following parameters on the trail:
- The CKC right of way is at its optimal width of 100 feet;
- There is only one stream on one side of the trail;
- The stream is assumed to have the lowest classification, and thus the lowest buffer width of 25 feet.
Using these parameters, Attachment D clearly demonstrates that the CKC’s useable width would be reduced from 100 feet to less than 25 feet. By applying the same parameters to other segments of the CKC where wetlands and streams exist on both sides, and where the classifications of both bodies of water are higher, it becomes clear that, in many cases the entire width of the CKC is encumbered by buffers.
Furthermore, If one applies the new regulations’ increased buffer width requirements, then even more of the CKC becomes incompatible with the ST3 E-03a and E-06 proposals.
Save Our Trail believes that, based on 3rd party evaluations (City GIS, City codes, and studies commissioned by the City of Kirkland) of the wetlands, streams, and wildlife habitats on the CKC, it would clearly be outside the spirit and intent of the law to build motorized transit on the CKC as described in E-03a and E-06. Furthermore, given the clearly documented alternative of E-02 (BRT on 405), mitigation is not an alternative.