Sounders FC could pay to build in wetland buffer zone

Proposal says construction plans have “unavoidable construction impacts” to the wetland buffer zone.

The Seattle Sounders FC may soon pay the City of Renton for the right to build new soccer facilities into the buffer zone of the Springbrook Creek Wetland, after consideration from the Renton City Council to approve the transaction.

The Seattle Sounders FC has land use approval for the Sounders FC Center at Longacres at 1901 Oakesdale Ave SW in Renton.

Proposed plans for the land include the use of a portion of an existing office building for Sounders FC office space and indoor training facilities and associated activities; outdoor recreation facilities including soccer fields; a goalkeeper’s field and accessory structures; and reconfiguration of an existing surface parking lot. The overall project site totals approximately 30 acres in area.

Part of the Springbrook Creek Wetland is located along the eastern boundary of the project site and would be classified as a Category II wetland with a “moderate habitat score.” Category II wetlands with a moderate habitat score require a 100-foot buffer for low impacts land uses and a 150-foot buffer for all other land uses.

According to the proposal, the proposed soccer fields qualify as low-impact land uses and would be subject to a 100-foot buffer.

There was no environmental impact statement (EIS) or investigation done for this project, said Jill Ding, senior planner with the City of Renton’s Community and Economic Development Department. An EIS is completed when it is believed that the project could result in significant adverse environmental impacts — a threshold which this project “did not even come close” to, she said.

The site plans show the proposed training area and field would be within the 100-foot buffer of the wetland. The proposal would have no direct impact on Wetland A, although it would reduce the 100-foot buffer to approximately 32 feet. This results in the alteration of approximately 15,467 square feet of the wetland buffer area between the development and the wetland.

The maximum buffer reduction permitted by the city’s adopted Critical Areas Regulations is 25% or a 25-foot reduction of a 100-foot buffer. This proposal would result in an approximately 68% reduction in the standard buffer.

However, there is a system in place that allows for the buffer zone to be impacted upon for a price.

The Springbrook Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank (SMB) was established on August 8, 2006, through the execution of what is called a Mitigation Bank Instrument, which serves as a way of maintaining and protecting a wetland impacted by development.

The SMB was developed by the City of Renton and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and approved by the city, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ding said the WSDOT was involved in the SMB because of the wetlands’ proximity to I-405. The SMB stipulates that an entity has to pay for the impact a development could have on the wetland.

“The city determined the price of wetland mitigation credits with the primary goal to recoup costs associated with developing the Springbrook Bank and to acquire sufficient funds for its long-term maintenance,” said Kevin Evans, a civil engineer with the city’s Public Works Department. “The city also referenced the pricing of other wetland mitigation banks and programs in the region to determine a fair and competitive price that would balance supply and demand.”

Evans said credits currently cost $1,321,875 each, with each credit mitigated for one acre of permanent wetland impacts.

According to Evans and the city’s documents, the Sounders FC proposal contains “unavoidable construction impacts” to 0.3749 acres of wetland buffer. The impact to the buffer was deemed an “indirect” wetland impact, so an adjustment factor of 0.5 was applied. Therefore, it was necessary to purchase 0.1875 credits at a total cost of $247,851.56.

The money that the city receives for the SMB credits goes towards long-term maintenance of the Springbrook Bank, which Evans said includes inspections, reporting, hydrologic assessments, weed control, removal of litter and risk trees, and repair or replacement of signs, fences, and boardwalk.

He said payment for the Sounders FC wetland mitigation credits will be collected in a reserve to help build the balance required to fully fund the long-term maintenance of the Springbrook Bank in perpetuity.

Sounders FC Chief Financial Officer, Tom Riley, maintained that environmental considerations have been taken “very seriously” in every step of this project.

“At the site, there is one manmade water feature adjacent to Sounders FC’s development that has been designated a wetland. While the final site plan encroaches into the buffer of that wetland feature, we will not impact the wetland itself,” Riley said. “As part of this project, the club has committed to enhancing the wetland buffer and natural environment surrounding our site – including the non-wetland water features. That includes removal of invasive species and replanting of native species and other plants and trees that will enhance the wetland ecosystem.”

Additionally, Riley said Sounders FC is working specifically with Salmon Safe to review the project and ensure the construction activities, use and management of the facility will not harm the watershed flora or fauna.