DRA SeattleComment

Developer Abuses the Environment Impact Statement [EIS] Process

DRA SeattleComment
Developer Abuses the Environment Impact Statement [EIS] Process

Proposed Development at 5th and Virginia, Project # 3019699. Comments on FEIS Addendum

The analysis provided in the Addendum is incomplete and does not fulfill the requirements of a project EIS. There is no discussion of project alternatives, particularly in regards to mitigation of environmental health impacts, most of which could be reduced through a thoughtful approach to alternative building design(s), specifically alternatives that incorporate reductions in height, bulk, and scale.  Investigation of potential environmental health issues is incomplete.  Furthermore, in several instances, the conclusion made after the discussion of an impact is insufficiently supported by the analysis.  In all cases, without exception, even for adverse environmental impacts that are severe and for which little or no mitigation is offered, the Addendum’s conclusion is “No significant unavoidable adverse impacts are anticipated.”

1.  The Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (Appendix C) was deficient in the following regards:

  • The analysis of soil contamination underneath the existing three buildings was Incomplete.  Only two samples were collected and analyzed, both from shallow soils.  Previous land uses indicate the potential for contaminated soils within the footprint of the proposed building.  No information was obtained regarding soil contaminants at depth.
  • Two underground storage tanks (USTs) are presumed to be present on the site, but the location of neither was verified.
  • Two soil vapor samples were obtained from underneath the concrete floors in two areas assumed to be near the USTs.  Sample analysis showed one elevated concentration of perchloroethylene, a solvent used in dry cleaning.  The small number of samples provides an incomplete analysis of soil vapor contaminants and no information regarding source and extent of contamination.
  • There was no analysis of groundwater levels or groundwater contaminant concentrations underneath the existing three buildings.  No groundwater samples were obtained or analyzed.
  • There was an Incomplete analysis of hazardous materials within the three existing buildings that are proposed for demolition, except for asbestos-containing material, most of which was identified.  Lead-bearing materials were not investigated, nor the presence of any other hazardous materials in the buildings that will be demolished.

There are reasons for most of these inadequacies stated in the ESA report, those being primarily lack of access for subsurface sampling. Recommendations were included in the report for additional characterization of soil during excavation, UST removal, soil vapor characterization, and investigation of the presence of lead and other hazardous materials in the three buildings, but no follow-up plans to remedy these deficiencies were found in the file.

2.  The analysis of environmental impacts to human receptors is grossly inadequate, including impacts arising from air emissions and air circulation issues, noise and vibration, reduction of natural light, and interference of privacy.  More specifically, deficiencies in the analysis include the following:

·      Inadequate analysis of air quality impacts on human receptors—both occupants of the nearest residential building and pedestrians—during demolition and construction.  Emissions of concern include asbestos, lead, vehicle emissions, and contaminated airborne soil particulate matter.  The length of exposure is significant, with construction estimated to take 31 months until enclosure of the proposed building. (See Item 3 below.)

·      The presentation of mitigation measures for air quality impacts was limited and generic.

·      The analysis of noise and vibration impacts on nearby residents during construction was inadequate, particularly in light of the proximity of hundreds of residences to the site.  (See Item 3 below.)

·      Insufficient discussion and commitment to mitigation measures for noise and vibration impacts.

·      Inadequate analysis of impacts to human receptors in regards to air circulation and wind tunnel effects once the new building has been constructed, including the entrainment of vehicle emissions and road dust from traffic in the alley as well as surface streets. Consideration should be given, and possibly modeled, to the air flow, contaminant entrainment potential, location of existing next door building air intakes, and air exhaust from the loading/unloading/garbage storage area of the proposed building.

·      Regarding glare impacts on nearby residences, there is a single paragraph, with no actual analysis nor detail provided, and an unsupported assumption that impacts would not be significant (p. E-10).

·      There was no analysis of impacts from shading, i.e., reduction of natural light, on residents of nearby buildings (Appendix F).  These are permanent impacts, and human health effects from lack of natural light are well documented in the literature. 

·      Appendix F erroneously concludes no significant shading impacts would occur and no mitigation would be necessary (p. F-6).  No mitigation measures for shading of nearby residences were mentioned.

·      There was no consideration of impacts and no discussion of mitigation measures for interference of privacy for nearby residential units.

3.  The analysis of construction related environmental health impacts (Appendix K) was also deficient in several areas. These impacts are more severe than in many projects due to the length of time required for building demolition, excavation, and construction. The Addendum estimates that the most impacting phase of construction, from demolition up to enclosure of the building, will last approximately 31.5 months (Addendum, p. K-1).  Deficiencies in the analysis of construction related impacts are noted below.

  • No analysis of stormwater impacts or construction dewatering impacts was provided.
  • Noise impacts were discussed only in general terms. There was no quantified analysis provided of noise impacts on the closest receptors. Impacts were described as “temporary annoyance” and “possibly increased speech interference.”  This is a gross understatement of the level of noise impact that would be experienced by the nearest neighbors due to excavation equipment and multiple dump trucks operating simultaneously during the excavation phase of the project, and is not supported by any quantitative analysis.   
  • Noise impact mitigation measures presented are completely inadequate for maintaining safe noise levels and limiting interruption of normal activities in the nearest residences.
  • Discussion of impact noise (such as driving piles) and vibration was extremely limited, and there was no detail or quantification provided in the description of possible mitigation measures.
  • The discussion of air quality impacts from demolition and construction was overly brief, with no details provided for specific known airborne hazards such as asbestos, contaminated soils, and vehicle exhaust. No quantitative analysis was provided, and yet the discussion concludes there would be no violation of ambient air quality standards.
  • Potential mitigation measures for air quality impacts did not include any proposal to locate excavation traffic away from areas where air circulation is poor or where the greatest impact to human receptors may occur.
  • Discussion of lighting and glare impacts and proposed mitigation was wholly inadequate and in conflict with a previous description of hours when construction would occur (up to 10 p.m. see p. K-3). The construction period is stated as “short-term” but 31.5 months is not short term for nearby residences that may be impacted by light and glare every day.  There was no explanation provided of how lights would be shielded and glare minimized.
  • Transportation impacts during construction were discussed but lack some quantifiable factors, and mitigation. No consideration was given, for example, to using single dump trucks in lieu of truck and trailer combinations, which would ease congestion on surface streets.  Due to the volume of truck traffic, particularly during the demolition and excavation phases of construction, construction traffic should be modeled in order to fully understand its impacts on the key surface streets and intersections.  Again, the discussion concludes that impacts would not be significant, without any analysis to support this statement.

4.  The Addendum does not provide:

·      A demolition plan that addresses controls for release of hazardous substances into the air, or management of asbestos-containing and lead-contaminated materials.

·      A plan for underground storage tank removal and associated soil sampling.

·      A plan for soil characterization after building demolition, and before and during excavation, to determine the appropriate disposition of soil being hauled offsite, and to provide sufficient protection from potentially contaminated airborne particulate for nearby residents and pedestrians.

·      A plan for soil vapor analysis after building demolition.

·      A plan for groundwater characterization after building demolition and before excavation.

·      Any mention of sampling, treatment, and appropriate disposal of dewatering effluent during construction.

·      A realistic plan for noise and vibration mitigation.

·      An effective plan for light and glare mitigation for nearby residences that would be impacted.

·      A reasonable and objective evaluation of “significant impacts.”

5.  “No significant unavoidable adverse… impacts are anticipated.”

The Addendum assumes that the Design Review process is “sufficient mitigation for any height, bulk and scale impacts” (p. 13, FEIS Addendum).  However, no substantially different designs that incorporated reduced height, bulk, or scale were offered by the project applicant to the Design Review Board.  Every environmental health impact noted above could be mitigated through alternate design choices that reduce structure height, bulk, or scale. 

Throughout, the Addendum describes impacts as “unavoidable,” which is simply untrue.  All impacts from a project of this nature are either avoidable or mitigatable to some extent.  All impacts are 100% avoidable through the “no action alternative.”  Consideration of other building designs, including modification to height, bulk, and scale as well as other features of architectural form, could result in meaningful reductions in nearly all of the adverse environmental health impacts noted above.

The conclusion of every section of the Addendum is labeled, “Significant Unavoidable Adverse Impacts.”  SEPA does not recognize the term “unavoidable adverse impacts” except in one case, which is the cleanup of toxic contamination from a site under the Model Toxic Control Act.  This special case rests on the presumption that the result of cleanup is a more valuable, permanent benefit than the potential short-term adverse impacts of the cleanup process, or that some level of contamination may be left in place because of the physical impossibility of 100% removal.  Use of the term “unavoidable adverse impacts” is not applicable to a proposed multi-purpose building in downtown Seattle.  Every adverse impact is avoidable if the structure is not built.  Every impact discussed in the Addendum (and those that were omitted) could be at least partially mitigated. 

It appears there was little to no sincere attempt in this Addendum to propose or pursue impact mitigation, even in those situations where a robust analysis had been done (e.g., the transportation study, Appendix J) and the resulting adverse impacts were clearly unacceptable.  The conclusion was always the same: “No significant unavoidable adverse … impacts are anticipated.”

Pam Jenkins, P.E.

Practical Environmental Solutions