Brightwater wetlands work ready to view

Building permits for King County's Brightwater sewage-treatment plant should be in hand within the next two months.

In the meantime, residents can view the results of $8 million spent on a wetlands-restoration project on the northern third of the 114-acre parcel, where highways 9 and 522 come together immediately north of Woodinville.

The county will conduct tours of the project Saturday morning.

King County has spent the past year remaking 43 acres as a wetlands and habitat area. The work was started first because permits were easier to land and because King County hopes to give wary residents some proof it plans to be a good neighbor, officials there say.

On a site once nothing more than a parking lot and a forested area overrun with invasive plant species and debris, King County has repaired much of the buffer surrounding feeder streams to salmon-sensitive Little Bear Creek nearby.

King County officials say the feeder streams on the property should become spawning ground again for salmon and also provide nesting areas for birds, invertebrates and mammals.

"When we first began, some of the streams were paved over and a lower pond on the property was not passable by fish," said Michael Popiwny, Brightwater's architectural-design and mitigation manager. "Already we're seeing fish jumping in the new pond, so they must be returning."

Work included removing at least 18 inches of soil to get to the roots of invasive plant species. The area was regraded, and not wanting to waste any of the dirt removed, designers created a series of mounds surrounded by walking trails.

About 22,000 native plants, including Sitka spruce, cedar and salal, have been distributed throughout the area, with more plantings to come next year.

Toward the back of the property will be a small covered structure for gardening tours, classes and group gatherings. The structure will complement a community center that will be a starting point for educational tours of the wetlands, Popiwny said.

All this comes as King County clears the last hurdles to start construction on the sewage-treatment plant. Snohomish County officials have nearly completed a first review of the building-permit application and expect the process to be finished in a month or two.

"It's a very complex set of buildings, so we have found a few items that will need to be corrected first," said Tom Barnett, Snohomish County's project manager for the Brightwater building permits. "But nothing is serious or out of the ordinary."

Snohomish County, which withheld further review until recently being assured seismic risks on the property are limited, has moved quickly to finish the process. King County says it needs the plant operational by 2010 to serve customers in North King and South Snohomish counties.

As part of the process, it is paying Snohomish County nearly $67 million for area improvements, which will include parks, street repairs and sidewalks. An initial payment of $33.5 million was received in November, and another payment of $17.5 million will come on the heels of building permits when they are issued.

A final payment of $16 million will be transferred between the counties in 2008.

Some work already has started, mostly prep work for tunneling that will collect sewage and take treated effluent to Puget Sound. Tunneling is expected to start by fall, said Christie True, Brightwater's project manager. Plant construction should start by year's end.

"When the weather clears, we'll start another round of grading to get ready for the building foundations," she said. "Right now, we've been putting in some of the piping to control stormwater during construction."

While numerous lawsuits and judicial reviews once looked to put Brightwater behind schedule, most of that scrutiny is now out of the way. True said the process has been much smoother in recent months.

"Things are going along very well," she said. "We're looking forward to moving ahead."

When the plant is completed, its cost will be nearly $1.75 billion with inflation, True said.

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or

King County has spent the past year working on wetlands at the Brightwater treatment site near Woodinville. Michael Popiwny, the site's architectural-design and mitigation manager, said fish are already jumping in the new pond, "so they must be returning." (MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

If you go

Tours of the restoration site will be given from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. To register, call 206-296-1311.