Mike Kane / P-I
Nevaeh Davis, 3, swings at a pi鎙ta during her cousin Nela Perez's first birthday party at her grandparents' house in South Park on Sunday. Pedro Rogers holds the rope and watching, from right, are Agustina Perez, her daughter Cruzita, 3, Jeff Armendariz and Jermiah Picket, 3.
A grand plan for Duwamish neighbors
Vision for Valley mapped out after Superfund cleanup
By ROBERT McCLURE
Imagine gondolas whisking people from West Seattle across the Duwamish River. Or water taxis scooting along the Duwamish to downtown. Or riverside developments with dog runs and canoe rentals -- all alongside a revitalized industrial base, still keyed to commerce made possible by the Port of Seattle.
OK, the federal government's Superfund cleanup of the Duwamish won't in itself bring about all that, but it does set the stage for a new wave of development of the long-polluted Duwamish Valley.
So the citizens watchdog group set up to oversee the cleanup on behalf of the public is trying to take the conversation further, asking: Once the PCBs and phthalates and heavy metals and other gunk are gone, what do people want to see in the valley between West Seattle and Beacon Hill?
In unveiling the product of months of talking to area residents, businesspeople and others, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition noted that residents are concerned about the flight of working-class families. They want to maintain "the affordability and the eclectic and mixed-use character" of neighborhoods near the river such as South Park and Georgetown, the coalition says.
That's a tall order, acknowledged BJ Cummings, coordinator of the cleanup coalition.
"We are not going to be successful in reaching our goals unless we look beyond the banks of the river," Cummings told a crowd of about 100 who came last week to see the unveiling of a near-final draft of the group's "Duwamish Future Map." "We have some choices, some really heavy choices, a lot of difficult choices."
The map outlining the coalition's emerging vision seeks to incorporate suggestions of a series of meetings held to blue-sky what could be for the Duwamish Valley -- long the contaminated and neglected stepchild of richer Seattle neighborhoods, critics say.
Cummings emphasized that the coalition is still seeking public comment, and will continue to through the summer. Interested? Go to duwamishcleanup.org.
"We want for you guys to poke holes in it," she said. "What do you see overemphasized? What do you see underemphasized? What did we get wrong?"
The cleanup coalition worked on the project for more than a year, collaborating with college students, including several from the University of Washington's Community, Environment and Planning Program. Cascade Land Conservancy, REI and others also provided help.
They met with a number of neighborhood groups, including sessions translated into Spanish, Cambodian and Vietnamese, as well as with area businesses, people who fish the river, homeless people, teenagers and children.
A common sentiment was that industry, long a part of the Duwamish Valley, should stay, said Cari Simson, who coordinated what the cleanup coalition calls its "visioning" exercise.
"They are really concerned," Simson said. "They really wanted to make sure that stays."
At the meeting last week, held at REI's South Lake Union headquarters store, groups sat at tables critiquing the "Future Map," then shared their thoughts.
"I represent diversity here, because I'm the token capitalist," commercial property manager Jim Harmon joked. He advocated that housing, jobs and amenities such as grocery stores and restaurants -- now in short supply -- be encouraged and be kept close together to help reduce traffic congestion.
"The more difficult part is trying to integrate that with the historic industrial use of the river," Harmon told the crowd.
Afterward, Harmon said he was encouraged that the cleanup coalition was thinking broadly, including how to keep jobs and commerce in the area.
"The work of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is extremely commendable, to think beyond the cleanup of the river and to think about the next 50 years," Harmon said. "Without the industry, without the jobs, skip the rest, because you can't pay for it."
Professional planner Gabe Snedecker cautioned that "we need to tread very carefully" to avoid driving up costs for industrial land.
One of the plans that emerged during the process eliminated Boeing Field, said Eric Schmidt of Cascade Design Collaborative, which helped coordinate the visioning process.
However, in the near-final draft unveiled last week, "Boeing Field is still there because we have to have a balance between the environment and the economy," Schmidt said. "But at least people are thinking outside the box, which is great, because it's a visioning exercise."
As for The Boeing Co. itself? It's one of the biggest polluters of the river, but also one of four entities creating a cleanup plan. Boeing executives are taking a wait-and-see approach to the cleanup coalition's efforts, said Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers, who monitored the meeting last week but did not participate.
Instead, the company is concentrating on the Cascade Land Conservancy's drive, across the Puget Sound region, to focus on what the conservancy calls "market-based tools" to balance economic growth with environmental protection.
"We're looking at it at that level because we are a major employer here," Bickers said. "That gets to the heart of how you can contribute on a long-term basis."
Barbara Matthes, who moved to Seattle recently from Salt Lake City, attended last week's meeting and came away impressed.
"There's a generosity of spirit here -- people willing to get involved," Matthes said. "It's not just government people or people who have a personal interest."
The cleanup coalition is made up of environmental community and small-business groups.
To keep housing affordable, they plan to work closely with the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County, an affordable housing development group.
"People say if we clean this place up, the property values will go up and you'll have gentrification," Cummings said.
"That's like saying, 'If you don't want to gentrify, you have to stay exposed to toxic chemicals.'
"The whole concern about gentrification is actually one of the things that led us into this. How can we do this cleanup and bring in tools and policies that will allow the people who worked hard to better their environment to actually stay there?"