Stormwater runoff rushes through a culvert in the Tamarack subdivision. Joe Livarchik/staff photo

The time is now | Tamarack resident calls for city to address stormwater in subdivision

  • Monday, May 8, 2017 9:53am
  • News

By Joe Livarchik

From her perspective, now is the perfect time for the city of Sammamish to deal with stormwater issues in the city’s subdivision of Tamarack, says Tamarack resident and advocate Mary Wictor.

Rain should be stopping with dry days ahead, providing an opportunity to look at the situation at the end of the rain cycle, she says.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has kept up with Sammamish City Council meetings. Wictor is a fierce advocate for addressing stormwater in her neighborhood and speaks at nearly every council meeting, meetings that she has regularly attended for over two years. By her count, she has spoken at over 70 city council meetings since 2015. That number doesn’t include her attendance at Planning Commission meetings, nor Sammamish Plateau Water board meetings, nor any of the other group or committee meetings Wictor has attended to lobby for her cause. There have been nights when Wictor has remained at City Hall while a council meeting has stretched into the wee hours of the next day, the only person still around not affiliated with the city as a staff member or elected official.

Her constant presence at meetings may become fatiguing to some of her audience, but she believes she’s doing everything she can to see to it that the stormwater issues she experiences as a Sammamish resident are fixed.

“Not doing this is damaging us and hurting everybody else and doing the project would help everybody,” she says.

Public vs. private

Tamarack has been experiencing its stormwater drainage issues for more than a decade, and Wictor attributes the excess runoff to overdevelopment. The neighborhood increased from 125 homes in its 210 lots in 2000 to currently 170 homes, making for roughly 80 percent of the area developed.

She says with no drainage facilities that were constructed, the runoff simply flows with gravity as its guide. Due to the speed, volume and duration of the flow, the stormwater can not infiltrate into the ground, instead washing over roads and carrying silt and sediment.

Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend said the city recognizes there are a series of neighborhoods experiencing stormwater issues within the city, including Tamarack. Part of the argument against the city addressing Tamarack stormwater issues, Gerend said, hangs on the city using public funding toward the maintenance of Tamarack’s private roads. Gerend noted the city’s role in addressing similar stormwater issues in the Inglewood Hill neighborhood, which has public roads, and added he was supportive of the city handling stormwater in Tamarack.

“I don’t feel the fact that it has private streets should be a reason not to give similar treatment to the stormwater [in Tamarack],” Gerend said. “The argument is that, ‘Well, it’s got to show public benefit.’”

Wictor says what may appear as an issue occurring on private roads is becoming more and more of a public problem, with stormwater runoff reaching public streets. She says water regularly runs over East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Louis Thompson Road. She notes there is no detention to reduce or slow the water coming from Tamarack, nor catch basins to trap the sediment and the fine silts it carries into Lake Sammamish, which can trap salmon eggs or young kokanee fry. And she contends that efforts to resolve stormwater issues in her neighborhood simply can no longer wait.

Wictor says the city has known about the problem since 2007, and while many studies have been done, including a recent downstream analysis, there has been no action from the council.

She uses an analogy to describe stormwater issues in her neighborhood. She thinks of Tamarack as a child born with polio that hasn’t been treated and the problem is spreading.

“The city may see me as a pest,” she says, “but I’m a pest telling them to get their vaccine for polio.”

Finding the source

Several council members have visited Tamarack to discuss the issue with Wictor, including Gerend and Deputy Mayor Bob Keller. Keller said while the council recognizes there’s a problem in Tamarack, the issues are much more complicated as a whole and aren’t limited to Tamarack.

“There’s not one place that’s going to solve stormwater. It would solve one area maybe if we put money in it, but that particular area, in many cases if you just follow the water downstream, there are other areas that may or may not need to be addressed first as well. So it’s complicated,” Keller said.

A computer scientist by trade, Wictor says she excels at diagnosing issues. It’s what she does. Wictor calls her stormwater advocacy efforts, which aren’t her first foray into advocacy, the hardest thing she’s ever done. It is 100 percent a volunteer effort and something that she admits has, at times, driven her to tears. When it rains, she admits she has difficulty sleeping at night.

Wictor says the city’s inaction in dealing with Tamarack stormwater runoff is “sending the water to new lows,” a clear pun referring to the water’s downhill flow from the plateau.

She wants to see the city fully fund and implement drainage improvements along Northeast Fourth Street. She contends that doing the drainage improvement project would aid work to Zackuse Creek and kokanee salmon recovery, would address road flooding and reduce the potential for roadway accidents, and would help improve water quality in Lake Sammamish through shared, multipurpose stormwater detention and treatment facilities.

“They need to do the project not because it helps me, but because it helps them and puts them in charge of the stormwater, instead of the stormwater being in charge of them,” she said.

One project of many

Gerend said right now, the council is having a running debate on when to address Tamarack’s issues, particularly whether the work should begin after completing the Zackuse Creek subbasin study, which is set to begin this October and last one year. Wictor is pushing for the city to restudy for a solution for Tamarack at the same time it studies the Zackuse Creek subbasin.

Gerend and Keller note the city is also set to begin a culvert replacement project in Zackuse Creek in that timeframe, with Keller saying “it would be a real travesty to the kokanee” if the culvert project isn’t completed from the time it begins.

“That needs to be a priority,” Keller said. “But if we can resolve Tamarack in that timeframe, as long as we’re not jeopardizing the culvert, I’d like to see us move faster on Tamarack than not.”

Wictor says the council has already identified the problem and put the code and policy in place. She mentions the council adopted a resolution and formal policy for Public/Private Stormwater Management Responsibilities last fall. Now, she says all the city needs for her project is the funding.

“The real problem is if you don’t get funded, you can never get looked at,” Wictor said. “You can never have a meeting, they’ll never study [the issue], it’s all related to if you don’t fund it, you’re screwed. You can’t get grants, you can not move ahead if you’re not funded.”

Gerend said he was in favor of having the city go in and take care of a few low-cost, short-term fixes while the city goes through its project evaluation process. He noted by its nature, government projects take longer to complete due to the processes government bodies need to go through.

“Mary’s shown us examples of where culverts are backing up. There are some simple solutions that are not too expensive solutions, and ditches that can be dug a little deeper to divert the water and the direction it’s supposed to go,” Gerend said.

Until something happens, Wictor says she’ll continue to push the city because she believes completing the Tamarack project is for the greater public benefit.

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