Working to preserve Edmonds' Demo Garden

City postpones controversial lighting on Pine Street
By Brian Soergel | Jun 08, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Susie Schaefer: "It's a shame so much damage happened to the carefully tended garden."

Susie Schaefer has a sunny disposition. It’s why she’s smiling in a photo accompanying this story.

But Schaefer was downright displeased when coming upon the carnage at her beloved Wildlife Habitat Native Plant Demonstration Garden, affectionately known as the Demo Garden.

She coordinates much of the activities and upkeep there.

City workers, in preparation for installing lights along the garden’s adjacent sidewalk, had hacked away much of the bushes and shrubs, leaving behind what she thought was an ugly scar.

Schaefer gave voice to her displeasure during a City Council meeting May 23.

“It’s a shame so much damage happened to the carefully tended garden,” she told councilmembers after earlier sending them a letter. “I’m sorry for all the people who worked so hard to bring that patch to life.”

Later that evening, councilmembers decided to delay the $20,000 lighting project.

“We have placed a temporary hold on the project while we assess alternatives to standard street lighting that will be less intrusive to the area in the demonstration garden frequented by wildlife,” Councilmember Dave Teitzel said.

Score one for sunny dispositions everywhere.

History

The Demo Garden, installed 10 years ago with the assistance of the city’s Parks and Recreation department, is certified by the National Wildlife Federation. The Willow Creek Hatchery next to it has been a familiar stop for hundreds of schoolchildren in Edmonds. In addition, there are regular opportunities for the public to become involved with regularly scheduled wildlife talks and clean-up parties.

It’s on the northwest corner of Pine Street and State Route 104, just east of Chevron-owned property and south of the Edmonds Marsh.

Up the steep road from the Demo Garden are the Point Edwards condominiums, expensive homes offering expansive views of the city. Residents began moving into the condos, located at the site of the former Unocal tank farm, in early 2005.

Last year, several residents complained to councilmembers that the lack of lighting at the bottom of Pine Street made it hazardous for walkers trekking up or down the hill. Councilmember Tom Mesaros, a Point Edwards resident, had earlier proposed a lighting project that fellow councilmembers rejected. But after hearing from residents, the council had a change of heart and approved a lighting project.

So began the process last month.

“I would have liked to have not only more notice, but more discussion,” Schaefer said. She admitted that Parks Manager Rich Lindsay sent her a brief note on May 8 that the city would be installing street lights on Pine Street, that the Demo Garden plants might be affected, and that he would do what he could to minimize the damage to the native plants along the edge of the street.

“But councilmembers were surprised that I was freaked out about the lights and its actual effect on wildlife,” she said. “So it wasn’t the fact they were going to destroy much of the garden. I wasn’t even thinking of that. I was concerned particularly about the old-fashioned lights that throw off bird migration. It’s gotten nice and wild down here. We’ve got coyote, deer, weasels. They might be scared by the light and go somewhere else. Lights also can have an effect on butterfly migration.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis shares Schaefer’s concerns.

“While I respect the work of the administration and attempting to work effectively when it comes to the sensitive areas of nature, this is another example of why we need a city arborist,” said Buckshnis, the council liaison to the city’s Tree Board.

“I am heartbroken over what happened at Pine Street, and all the volunteer hours that dissolved or were shredded by machines. A similar occurrence happened along the Shell Creek fish-bearing area when a developer was allowed to bulldoze the banks. The Students Saving Salmon group that tests in that stream area were shocked and, to me, any answer is just an excuse.”

Councilmember Neil Tibbott agreed that the damage done was too much.

“I’m sorry for all the people who worked so hard to bring that patch to life. I’m also concerned that we won’t move quickly enough to a solution for lighting on the walkway down the hill into downtown. I still think directional LED street lights will serve the needs of pedestrians and minimize the impact on wildlife. I’d like to see them in place before the fall.”

Teitzel agreed that there was a lack of communication on the lighting.

“This was a simple case of miscommunication between council, Public Works and the Demonstration Garden volunteers,” he said. “When council approved the additional pedestrian lighting to illuminate a dangerously dark section of heavily used sidewalk between SR 104 and the Point Edwards condominiums, we had the understanding the lighting would be installed along the southern edge of Pine Street, away from the Demonstration Garden.”

But, according to Public Works director Phil Williams, the city discovered that side of the street was problematic, as the utility easement there is owned by Woodway, and there were a number of major buried utilities in the way of the power installation needed for the new lighting.

The city decided to move the light installation to the north, on the Edmonds side of Pine Street, along the border of the Demo Garden. Williams said the streetlights to be installed were 3,000 kelvin LED, providing a slightly warmer light that can be focused and shielded to be dark-sky compliant.

Williams added that installing lights on the north side of Pine Street required disrupting the first several feet of ground immediately north of the sidewalk edge to dig a ditch and install conduit. That work was done by staff; PUD was to install three 35-foot lights.

Teitzel said councilmembers are anxious to do the right thing.

“We will be glad to collaborate with Demo Garden volunteers to determine how best to restore the native vegetation that was removed to place underground power facilities for the new lighting,” Teitzel said.

“We very much appreciate the efforts of the many volunteers who have invested significant time and effort to establish a demonstration garden at the east end of the Edmonds Marsh for the benefit of wildlife, our citizens and visitors to Edmonds, and we are committed to assisting in maintaining its viability.”

All this is probably good news for Alan Mearns, an Edmonds resident, marine ecologist and frequent voice at council meetings.

“Congratulations Edmonds,” he wrote in a letter to councilmembers. “You just wiped out hundreds of volunteer hours, nine years of native plant and tree growth, and breeding bird nests … You didn't even have the courtesy to discuss this plan with the volunteers, including citizens and students who sweated over the project during the past nine years.

“Further, the native shrubbery was not pruned but summarily whacked, shredding young tree branches and trunks. You better go in there and carefully prune the shredded branches to prevent disease and delayed mortality of shrubs and trees, and replant salal and kinnikinnik ground cover. We will supervise.”

 

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