News

Wetlands complicate community center

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Federal Way is going to have to seek permission to build a community center in Celebration Park after learning recently a wetland nearby is more significant environmentally than originally thought.

Until a project update last Tuesday, city officials thought the marshy, wooded area behind the center was a Category II wetland, which requires a 100-foot buffer for development. As it turns out, the wetland is a Category I — with a 200-foot buffer requirement.

To continue with the project as currently designed, officials must get approval through a Process IV hearing, when they’ll ask a hearing examiner if they can encroach into the buffer. If they don’t get permission, the city will have to redesign the project and find a new orientation for the center. As it is now, the required buffer zone extends into the community center, cutting the design almost in half.

City Councilman Eric Faison said he was surprised by the new information, but not worried. “I trust staff will work through this process,” he said.

Parks Department director Jennifer Schroder said officials used a 1999 city wetlands inventory when they started planning the site.

But those inventories are cursory looks at the city’s wetlands, city parks planner B. Sanders said. Through more detailed analysis as part of the site design, officials realized the wetland was more significant than they thought.

That the wetland is mature played a factor in classifying it a Category I, as did the fact there is open water year-round and three classes of vegetation –– a layer of herbaceous plant life, like grasses and reeds, a shrub layer and trees.

Still, while the city mitigate the impacts on the wetland buffer, community development director Kathy McClung said there are other areas in Celebration Park where buffers are far larger than required, which might work in the city’s favor.

The worst-case scenario, Schroder said, is the city would have to build the center outside the buffer.

City officials anticipate the environmental analysis and potential mitigation measures will increase the cost of the project. Now that it’s about 30 percent designed, other costs are showing up higher than initially anticipated, too.

The expected cost to build the center has increased from $12.6 million to $12.9 million (steel and energy costs are going up and the construction market is showing signs of improvement, officials said). And off-site costs, which include the wetland issue, have increased from $3.1 million to $3.3 million.

Though costs have increased, the bottom line remains at $20.6 million. Cost increases are taken out of a 10 percent contingency added into all city projects to cover unexpected overruns. So far, planners have dipped into about $620,000 of the $1.8 million contingency.

Despite the setback, city officials are still looking forward to the project.

“I’m the forever optimistic one,” Schroder said. “I’m not willing to throw in the towel yet.”

Planners will update the council in July, when the project is 50 percent designed, and again in August, when it’s 85 percent designed. They plan to have the center fully designed and go to bid for construction services in December and to award a bid in January 2005. Construction is expected to be finished in the fall of 2006.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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