Gas station proposal opens ideological divide

The push for a gas station in the Issaquah Highlands is becoming more than just a question of economics and convenience, as city staff, residents, and the developer consider what it would mean for the heralded green development and Issaquah’s goals of conservation and sustainability.

The push for a gas station in the Issaquah Highlands is becoming more than just a question of economics and convenience, as city staff, residents, and the developer consider what it would mean for the heralded green development and Issaquah’s goals of conservation and sustainability.

The City of Issaquah is approaching the issue with an open-mind, searching for an original and effective solution to both satisfy the commercial needs of the Highland’s residents and the city’s ideals.

A gas station was included in developer Port Blakely’s initial presentations to the city in the early 1990s, but was taken off the table after environmental concerns were raised by councilors. There were fears that tank leaks and gasoline runoff could enter the underground aquifer on which the city relies for its water supply.

According to Port Blakely President Alan Boeker, in recent months there has been an increase in calls from residents for a gas station.

“Over the years they have kept asking the question,” he said, adding that at regular residents’ meetings at the Highlands Town Hall, whether or not to bring in a gas station had been “a bit of an emotional issue.”

Four months ago the developer decided to raise the issue again with the city, and in doing so cited new technology that gas stations were using to reduce leaks and provide increased environmental safety.

Boeker also said that his company now had a better understanding of the geology of the area, and had recently found that there is in fact a hard pan layer on top of the aquifer, known as an “aquatard,” a less permeable layer which would protect the aquifer from seepage from above.

In a Port Blakely survey, returned by about 300 Highlands residents, 70 percent of respondents were in favor of a gas station.

Department of Ecology Tank Site Inspector Annette Ademasu said that stricter regulations instituted in 1998 had brought about a reduction in the amount of leaks and spill at gas stations nationwide. As of July 1, 2007, all new tanks and pipes that are installed must be “double-walled.”

“I think the technology and the regulations are very good generally,” Ademasu said, stressing, however, that her department was only one of several agencies that regulate gas stations; the others include Puget Sound Clean Air.

“We implement only the basic, minimum requirements,” she said. “If you have areas of concern that you want to be more protected, then the city has the ability to get an environmental review done and insist on additional requirements.”

Ademasu said she saw “about a dozen” instances of leaks from new generation tanks and pipes in the region each year, the majority of which were very small.

The safety of the city’s aquifer appears to be just one of the pressing issues. Another is whether the city should be strengthening it’s connection with a fossil fuel, the diminishing availability of which is at the heart of perhaps the world’s most pressing environmental and economic crises.

In a letter to the Issaquah land use committee, one Issaquah resident wrote that when the Highlands development first came to the city, they were promised a “green” community.

“The concept of the proposed urban village was not just about building lots of ‘green’ houses,” the letter said. “It promised a movement away from fossil fuel dependency and automobiles because people would live, work and play within the community. But now we learn of a proposal to build a gas station? That would seem to be a complete reversal of the original Highlands proposal.”

Citing the increasing demand and finite supplies for petroleum, the resident pleaded with the committee to “take climate concerns into consideration as you ponder another gas station in the city, especially at a time when the culture shifts away from fossil fuels.”

Which brings the debate to alternative energy sources, a field in which the City of Issaquah is doing much to educate itself.

Last week The Reporter suggested to Boeker that insisting on the inclusion of alternative energy sources in a new gas station would be an example of corporate leadership in promoting sustainable industry, as they had done with an insistence on green building and architecture in the Highlands.

Boeker said that they would be unlikely to insist that a gas station operator provide capacity for alternative energy fuels.

“The market place will decide what they will offer,” he said. “We will push for good design. But it is wrong to ask someone to incur such an expense before the marketplace is ready.”

On Tuesday Major Development Review Team program manager Keith Niven sat down to lunch with Boeker and chair of the council land use committee, councilmember John Rittenhouse. Following that meeting Niven told The Reporter the three men discussed options for the proposed station that would promote the use of alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and compressed natural gas.

One of those, Niven said, could even see the city becoming a partner in the gas station, although he stressed that at the moment they are “just kicking the ball around.”

“The three things that the city said they wanted to know were; one, can we be assured that the environment will be protected; two, does the community want it; and, three, how do we make sure that we reflect the green nature of the community,” he said. “Does the city want to use the carrot or the big stick? It is probably a bit more on the carrot side of the spectrum.”

Niven was referring to the city’s eagerness to make sure any new gas station makes allowances for alternative fuels.

“The city could be draconian and mandate a, for example, hydrogen pump, and then find in two years that it is not used,” he said. “That’s the struggle, how do we make it a facility that can transition? One idea is to reserve a portion of the property that can only be used for alternative fuels, when they become more available in the future.”

“Issaquah Highlands’ transportation component is designed to meet the practical needs of residents while reducing the total number of miles car owners drive,” Boeker said this week. “The pedestrian-friendly design of the community encourages walking over short car trips, while the fiber-optic network makes it possible for more people to work from home and avoid the commute altogether. In the same way, locating a gas station in Issaquah Highlands makes sense because it would at the very least cut in half the miles car owners currently drive to buy gas – and therefore significantly reduce overall miles travelled.”

Environmental and traffic studies are now being done. The findings will be presented to the land use committee at their next meeting in July. 14.

More in News

Three candidates aim to fill an open seat on the Issaquah School Board

Suzanne Weaver, Joe Robinson and Layna Crofts compete for the Issaquah School District Director District 5 position.

King County Correctional Facility is located at 500 5th Ave., Seattle. File photo
King County jail’s leaky pipes have national implications

Lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court alleges Aquatherm has been selling faulty pipes.

VoteWA is a $9.5 million program that came online last May and is meant to unify all 39 county voting systems in the state into a single entity. Courtesy image
WA’s new voting system concerns county elections officials

VoteWA has run into some problems in recent months as the Aug. 6 primary election draws closer.

At the Issaquah clinic, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance patients can receive chemotherapy infusions, nutrition consultations, hematology and other services.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance welcomed into Issaquah with ribbon cutting

After expansion into Poulsbo, National Cancer Institute-designated care center gets underway in Issaquah

Providence Point residents speak out in support for intersection improvements

Issaquah residents supported a traffic light on SE 43rd Street at a CIP public hearing on July 1.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Kennedy
                                Tools4Schools will be having its annual school supplies drive Aug. 12.
ISF and Issaquah Food Clothing Bank partner again for Tools4Schools drive

Tools4School provided more than 900 backpacks to students during the 2018-19 school year.

Photo courtesy of Life Enrichment Options
                                The annual Challenge Race returns to Issaquah for the 22nd year on July 27 at the Issaquah Community Center.
Challenge Race returns to Issaquah

The annual event will take place at the Issaquah Community Center on July 27.

Pete, with his companion Nina, served as “the foundation” of the zoo’s gorilla program when he first arrived in Seattle in 1969. Photo courtesy of Dennis Dow / Woodland Park Zoo
Prop 1 would fund parks, zoos and open spaces

King County voters could approve the renewal and increase of the levy on the August ballot.

Issaquah begins long-term planning for the future of parks

Long-term master plans for three major Issaquah open space areas are in the works.

Most Read