Location of intermodal garbage site up in air again

As of July, the solid-waste division of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) had all but eliminated any location except near South Corgiat Drive in Georgetown for a new truck-to-rail intermodal garbage-transfer facility.

That's changed following comments at a series of three public meeting about the $70 million project, said solid-waste director Tim Croll. The Seattle City Council also had second thoughts about the Corgiat site, he added.

Objections boiled down to "what if options" that included not building a third site at all and instead expanding the existing transfer stations in Wallingford and South Park, according to Croll. The city's other options including taking another look at Harbor Island as well as another Georgetown location on Edmonds Street.

But the one suggestion for the facility that has taken many by surprise is the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard in Interbay between the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods.

"Interbay had been eliminated for what we think are sound reasons," Croll said. But the public mentioned Interbay several times in meetings as a better location than the Corgiat site, he said.

The possibility of using Interbay as the location doesn't set well with neighborhood organizations in Magnolia and Queen Anne. "The Queen Anne Community is absolutely opposed to it for a lot of reasons," said council president Ellen Monrad.

It clashes with plans to revive the Interbay area around West Dravus Street, and the 15th Avenue West corridor is already congested, she said. "I don't believe it can sustain that much more truck traffic."

There's also a matter of esthetics, according to Monrad, who wonders why SPU would want to put a garbage facility between two neighborhoods that play home to some of the city's most expensive real estate.

Victor Barry, president of the Magnolia Community Club, is equally critical of the idea. The neighborhood organization is actively opposing the proposal and using the slogan, "Don't dump on Magnolia," he said. For Barry, it's also a question of fairness.

"Back in the old days, Magnolia has done its part as evidenced by a landfill (now) covered by a golf course," Barry noted. "We're confused as to why Interbay was put back on the table at this late date." After all, he added, analysis of the location points to all sorts of problems.

For one thing, garbage from South Seattle would have to be trucked north so trains could turn around and send the waste back south on the way to an Oregon landfill, according to SPU spokesman Andy Ryan.

The garbage trucks also park in South Seattle, and that means the drivers would have to face rush-hour traffic twice at the end of the day when they unload, he said. Another big obstacle to the location is the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, Ryan said. "It's a switch yard for them."

BNSF spokesman Gus Melones declined to address the issue. "We have not received any official proposal," he said. "We would have to review all the details before commenting further."

Holly Krejci, who helped form the Georgetown Merchants Association with Kathy Nyland, has a slightly different take on the issue. "Our objection is, don't put it here; don't build it anywhere," she said. "Our argument is very clear: (SPU) has not proven the need."

Krejci also believes there is a broader trend at work. "I think SPU is really trying to make this a neighborhood-versus-neighborhood issue."

Nyland, who owns the George gift shop with Krejci, echoes her business partner. "Traffic is a concern, but for the most part we don't think SPU has proven that it's needed," she said of the Georgetown facility.

Nyland objects to the plan because Seattle has fallen so far behind in its recycling goals, and she suggested that an aggressive waste-reduction effort could eliminate the need for an intermodal facility in her neighborhood.

She points to San Francisco as a model. The California city has recycling rate of 67 percent, while Seattle is hovering around 46 percent, Nyland said.

"We've been little pit bulls," she said of the fight against building the facility in Georgetown. The battle seems to have sparked some changes. SPU staff members at an SPU open house she attended two weeks ago qualified the Georgetown proposal by saying "if approved," Nyland said. "They never said 'if' before."

Croll from SPU is trying to stick to his guns. "Despite problems, we think Corgiat is the best site." But he concedes that Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin isn't convinced the Georgetown location is the answer.

Conlin, who chairs the Environment, Emergency Management and Utilities Committee, would like to see the option of increasing the recycling rate in Seattle, instead, Croll said. "So things are a little up in the air right now."

But the goal is to get a city council decision on the matter as soon as possible, Croll added. He hopes that decision will be made in the first quarter of next year, "but it could be later."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com.

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