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October 2008: This page (and the Critical Ordinance analysis) has been relocated from SeahurstPark.org
Any new information that I'm aware of will be posted at the bottom of this page. Last update June 10, 2008

One of the key features of Seahurst Park is the large wetland area at the headwater of North Creek. There is a link further down the page that will open a Google Map showing the area. This wetland is mostly undocumented, with only a very small section at one edge listed on any maps. As a result there is currently no protection for it. Even though they're mostly inaccessible these wetlands help make the Park what it is. They provide wildlife habitat and forage for all sorts of animals living in them as well as in other parts of the Park. They filter water running into the Park both above and below the surface to remove urban pollutants so that the water in North Creek and many of the Park's springs is clean enough to support the Salmon Hatchery and to enhance the quality of the shoreline habitat, something that Burien is spending millions of dollars to improve. They help to provide flood control on North Creek which also enhances the quality of the lower creek and the shoreline.

Currently the greatest risk to the wetlands in the Northeast corner of the park is a proposed development by Westmark Development. They are planning to build a number of condominium buildings with a total of 178 units. That has been reduced from the original planned 200 units. But the number of buildings and approximate footprint remains the same. This project has been in the works since before the City of Burien became a city. Due to various delays it has dragged on since about 1990. As a result of the delays Burien was sued and was ordered by a Snohomish County Superior Court [we still need a link to the original lawsuit] to pay the developer $10,710,000. An appeal was decided in favor of Westmark. An appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court was declined by the Court. The project is generally considered to be vested under 1990 SEPA regulations. There are conflicting statements from the developer regarding which rules he intends to apply that vesting to. Some reports state that it will only be used for Zoning, which has changed from Multi-Family to Single-Family. Other reports indicate that it will be applied to all regulations that could restrict the development. If the older SEPA and related rules are used this would be a disaster for the wetlands. This potential was the main inspiration for this site. Which has the positive side-effect of creating a web site with (hopefully) lots of good information about Seahurst Park in general.

I've extracted the the most relevant portions of the Burien Municipal Code's Critical Area Ordinance and the developer's DEIS. I've added some notes and a number of internal links to tie it all together. The CAO extracts show what should happen, the DEIS shows what will happen if something isn't done. Please read the comparison. The developer is planning to follow outdated 1990 County ecology regulations that provide no protection at all for the wetlands or the park. It is also critical that the wetlands be properly classified and recorded so that they are protected in the future. A proper, current wildlife study also needs to be done. And even though a small portion of the wetlands have been identified, no amphibian study has been done at all.
Why are these wetlands critical?
  • They're part of the system that provides water to the Salmon Hatchery at the Marine Technology Lab. If they are damaged the Hatchery is at risk.
  • They provide water storage and buffering during periods of heavy water flow. There are areas of the wetland where plant debris in bushes indicates that water has backed up at least a foot deep. This protects the Hatchery, as well minimizing the amount of sediment that is washed down stream and into the Sound. Because these wetlands are well covered in vegetation they are a buffer for stream pollutants (including pollutants and sediment that washes out of adjoining urban areas with storm water) rather than a source. If there is degradation of the wetlands then erosion will begin. This can already be seen in a few areas where the trail runs along the border.
  • They provide habitat for a number of species of animals and birds, plus the plants that are specific to wetlands areas. And many animals that live outside the wetland boundaries may use use them as a hunting area or a travel corridor to other areas.
  • They are directly upstream from and adjoining an area of critical shoreline that is undergoing a multi-million dollar Shoreline Habitat Rehabilitation. Allowing the wetlands to be degraded would have a potential negative effect on the rehabilitation.
  • They are part of the overall ecology of Puget Sound. Because of the filtering and buffering that they do, the Sound (and the multi-million dollar shoreline enhancement project at their outlet) is a healthier place. This Seattle Times article by William Dietrich about Puget Sound shows why it's so important to protect and enhance areas like this.
  • They are irreplaceable. These wetlands comprise most of the upper basin for North Creek, the lower part of the basin is steeper with very limited space for wetlands. Since they are in nearly pristine condition, any disturbance will affect that condition. Once the upper basin wetlands are gone, they are gone forever.
They are unusual for a number of reasons.

Even though they are in an area that has been heavily urbanized for many years, they are relatively untouched. The last time they were seriously disturbed was around 1890 when the area was logged. There are still some large stumps with springboard notches scattered through the entire area. Additionally there was some disturbance as part of the water systems that were in use in the early 1900s, but almost all of this was downstream from the wetlands, or at the very western most edge. And even though these wetlands are bordered on 3 sides by urban areas (primarily residential) there seems to have been very little negative impact. This is probably due to the relatively extensive forested area (including the area of the proposed development) between the wetlands and developed areas. In most cases this forest is either thick enough to provide a buffer, or on a steep enough hill to restrict access. So there has been very little human traffic, and on the upper edge where the urbanization is most developed, the extensive forested area has limited both human and pollutant access. There is a trail that runs around the perimeter of the wetlands, but with only a couple of exceptions it is at least 50 feet away from the boundary, in most cases it's several hundred feet away, often at the top of a very steep slope. Other than wildlife trails unsuitable for something the size of a human, there appear to be no trails into the center of the wetlands.

It looks like there are several types of wetlands in the area. At the upper edge they are primarily slope wetlands where water emerges from the base of a slope at the western edge of the proposed development. This is probably partly due to the change in slope where it levels out, and partly due to the layer of clay soils in the area, which prevents ground water from going any deeper, so when the slope approaches that layer, water comes to the surface. This will also affect ground stability because of the saturation. The upper boundary of the wetlands appears to pretty much follow the contour of the land. Further in there appear to be depressional wetlands. There are a number of higher spots visible that are above the water saturation level, but there is also a lot of area that has surface water. And near the bottom there are riverine wetlands along North Creek. The upper basin has a large central area of wetlands that comprises somewhere between 5 and 15 acres, with some sections of higher, dry ground. There are spotty patches of additional wetlands around the boundary. There are also a few small patches of apparent wetlands further downstream below the main area. Update: The bridge was originally the estimated lower boundary of the primary wetland. As the season progressed it became apparent that most of the area below the bridge also contains extensive wetlands, which probably went all the way to the Sound before King County built the seawall and road back in 1972. This probably brings the total area of the wetlands up to somewhere between 20 and 30 acres.

Even the incursion of the most common invasive species seems to be very limited. There is some English Ivy encroaching along the eastern edge, especially at the SE corner. There is very little blackberry growth within the boundaries of the wetland, but there is some nearby, again mainly along the eastern edge. The worst of it is between the wetlands and the existing Sound Vista Condos where the ground was disturbed in the early 90s for construction. English Holly is present in several areas along the east and north boundaries, but except for one area on the north side very little of it has crossed the trail. That section has some large clumps on the park side of the trail, but they all are still near the trail.

There is a related Google Map that will let you get a better idea of the part of the park under discussion.

About the map:
  • All locations plotted on this Google Map are approximate and should not be considered to be legally binding in any way. We have made a best effort to insure accuracy, but can not guarantee anything. In addition we are not trained surveyors, botanists or hydrologists and are not qualified to determine the classification or delineation of wetlands. Our classification is primarily based on a study done by Terra Associates in 1991, which showed a small area of wetlands on the western edge of the proposed development and indicated that it stretched further westward, comprising an area of at least an acre. Our determination of wetland boundaries in other areas is based on the fact that they contain similar plants and have similar ground characteristics, including water saturation.

  • Stream plotting was done using GPS readings combined with Google Maps' Terrain feature and 2 maps from "Washington Trout Survey and Mapping of Seahurst Park North Creek". The second map is the one to the East of the one displayed, click on the E on the right side of the map. The comments show a survey date of 04/28/03. Please see Note 1 regarding the stream typing.
  • The dark blue section is the main branch of the creek. The lighter blue/aqua lines are upper tributaries. These lines were all extrapolated from the Washington Trout survey maps.
  • Green icons with letters are man made structures.
  • The green icon numbered "1" is the area that was identified as Type 2 wetland in the 1991 survey.
  • Orange icons are observation points relating to the wetlands.
  • The orange line is an educated guess at the approximate [please note the double waffle there] boundaries of the wetland area. The perimeter is about 3000 feet, just over half a mile. Estimated surface area is between 10 and 12 acres. There are some high ground areas within that border that will be drier, but there are almost certainly some additional small wetlands further down the stream. Update: It turns out that there are extensive wetland areas in the lower basin, the Google Map boundary has been adjusted to account for this.
  • The red line outlines the approximate boundaries of the proposed Emerald Pointe Condominiums. The western edge of the development slightly overlaps the eastern edge of the documented wetland area.

Note 1: The 2003 Washington Trout survey resulted in upgrading North Creek (identified as Stream "5a") from Type 9 water to Type 3 water. The correct classification is actually Type 2 water due to an obscure clause in the Water Typing rules. See Section *(2) paragraph (b) in the PDF file on the Washington State DNR site. We are working to get that corrected. Update 02/18/08: The correction has been made and letters are going to the Tribes, the State, the County, the City of Burien, and anyone else appropriate. Thank you Wild Fish Conservancy.

News on the status of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (most recent at the top):
June 10, 2008 The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Emerald Pointe Development can be downloaded as of today. It's available as either one large file, or individual sections. It can also viewed at City Hall and the Burien branch of the library. Hard copies or a CD version can be purchased from Roadrunner Print and Copy, 120 SW 153rd St, Burien, WA 98166. (206) 242-4042. Details and download links are on Burien's Community Development Department page.
June 6, 2008 The Planning Director has sent out a notification that says: we expect the FEIS will be available by the end of the day on Tuesday, June 10th, both in printed format and on the City's website. As soon as I know where it is, I'll post a link, but it should also be linked from the City's Community Development page.
May 30, 2008 I just spoke with the City of Burien and there is still nothing firmer than "Sometime next week" for the release of the FEIS. I'll update this page as soon as I hear anything.
May 23, 2008 I spoke with Scott Greenberg at the City of Burien a few moments ago, and he had just spoken with the Consultants for the FEIS. Release has been delayed a few more days so that they have a little more time to get everything laid out correctly. They are currently expecting to release it the first week of June. Notifications will be sent by email using Blind Carbon Copy to anyone whose email address is on file, or by postal mail if that's all they have. Most people will not receive an actual copy of the FEIS, you'll have to arrange that yourself. They definitely intend to have a copy on the City website available for download, probably by Chapter, although he says the whole thing won't be terribly large. I'll post a link here as soon as it's available.
May 21, 2008 This email was received from the City of Burien this afternoon. I don't think we'll meet the May 27th date for issuance of the FEIS, but should have it out by the end of next week.  All people who commented on the DEIS as well as the mailing list we used for the DEIS notice will be notified of the FEIS availability.  Those who provided e-mail addresses will be notified by e-mail.  We will also post the FEIS to our website within a day or two of receiving the electronic files from our consultants.
May 8, 2008 As of this morning the FEIS is still scheduled to be released on May 27, 2008. As before, printed (and hopefully CD) copies will probably be available for a small fee from Roadrunner Printing (206) 242-4042) on or after that date. This time the City also hopes to have online copies available for download. Details of the method of notifying people are still being worked out. As soon as I have them I'll post them here, and if it's available online I'll include the links.
April 4, 2008 Burien currently expects to release the FEIS on May 27, 2008. The Highline School District has delayed making or releasing a decision until they see the FEIS.
As of March 11, 2008 we're waiting for decisions from the Highline School District about granting Westmark an easement for easier access to the property, and the City of Burien on the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The School District reports that they are examining all the comments and data that they received and they have no timetable for a decision. The City of Burien expects to release the FEIS sometime around the middle of May, 2008.
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Content Updated June 10, 2008
Minor update June 17, 2009