by Vee Hua 華婷婷
In Summer 2022, Friends of Dead Horse Canyon (FODHC) — a small group of volunteers and residents “dedicated to conserving the integrity of Dead Horse Canyon through restoration and advocacy” — organized around what they felt were potentially detrimental creek restoration plans within Dead Horse Canyon. Their efforts and feedback from other community members have led Seattle Public Utilities to reconsider their original solutions for the Taylor Creek Restoration Project. They have since removed one of three proposed options, which would have significantly impacted the park’s tree population.
Located in Southeast Seattle near the Rainier Beach, Lakeridge, and Bryn Mawr-Skyway neighborhoods, Dead Horse Canyon is a 39-acre natural area comprising the majority of Lakeridge Park. The canyon is home to a wide array of mature trees and native flora; FODHC boasts that the park’s fauna include “barred owl, coyote, Douglas squirrel, and at least four species of woodpecker.” It is also the site where two forks of Taylor Creek converge before emptying into Lake Washington.
In 2010 and 2011, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) purchased properties in the lower end of Taylor Creek. According to their website, the goal was to “address localized flooding and sediment deposition by improving drainage infrastructure, removing fish passage barriers and improving natural habitat, restoring the natural drainage system of Taylor Creek and its watershed, and increasing equitable community access to open space in Southeast Seattle.”
SPU Project Manager Cody Nelson commented on the history of the project, saying, “Over the past two years, SPU has been working to develop and design a new sediment management strategy for the creek in Dead Horse Canyon. What our experts recommended is installing large woody materials (LWM) along the creek that will capture sediment in the creek itself and build up the creek bed. This is a more natural approach to sediment management but would require additional construction work in Dead Horse Canyon.”
In line with these recommendations, SPU designed three LWM-centered solutions and shared them with the public for feedback. Options 1 and 3 required a temporary access road within the canyon and were met by robust community opposition due to the proposed removal of numerous mature trees.
“We’ve had many constituents in South Seattle and Skyway reach out to us regarding the situation in Dead Horse Canyon,” shared King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. “While this situation is outside of our jurisdiction as a project undertaken by the City of Seattle, we’ve been in conversation with our partners at the City to relay our constituents’ concerns, particularly from residents of unincorporated King County who will be affected by the City’s project.”
However, community members had been experiencing difficulties meeting with SPU, according to District Director Evelyn Chow from the Office of Councilmember Tammy J. Morales. “Our office was able to meet and pull together a sit-down between SPU, FODHC community members, and CM Morales herself to hear about the project, community concerns, and next steps,” she said.
As outlined in the Office of Sustainability and Development’s August 2022 assessment of Seattle’s tree canopies, Seattle has experienced a net loss of 1.7% (255 acres) of tree canopy during the 5-year period between 2016 and 2021, despite the city’s goal of hitting 30% total urban tree canopy by 2037. The report also cites that this loss of tree canopy comes at a time when the city’s population has grown by 8.5%, with approximately 58,000 additional new residents and 47,000 housing units.
In late October 2022, due to community feedback, SPU made the decision to no longer pursue Option 1; it uses machine-placed structures and will last the longest, but it faced opposition because it has the highest tree-removal impact. The options that remain include Option 2, which utilizes smaller woody materials and does not require an access road but would be least effective at managing erosion and be the most expensive over time. Option 3 is a combination of 1 and 2, but requires an access road, which some local organizers oppose.
Dayna Hanson, a volunteer with FODHC, commented on Option 3, saying, “Next, we need to keep up the pressure to remove the partial road option from consideration but have been told by SPU that this option is ‘deprioritized.’”
Presently, no additional decisions have been made about the project design and no alternative options have been proposed. From now until early 2023, the Taylor Creek Restoration Project remains in its community engagement and development phase. Additional sediment management options will be researched, and SPU will seek solutions that would accomplish the project goals while requiring zero-to-minimal tree removal. A final decision is anticipated in mid-to-late 2023 around the lower project area, while the design phase of the upper project area will continue.
“Once we identify an option supported by SPU, [Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR)], and the community, we will move forward with design and permitting which is expected to take about two years,” said Nelson. “Community engagement will continue through the design and construction phases.”
“Also on the horizon is another joint session with FODHC, SPU, and SPR to plan the independent scientific (and hopefully cultural) panel to address the project and outreach to a greater representation of South End community groups,” said Hanson.
Finalization of the entire project design of both the lower and upper project areas will take place between 2024 and 2025, along with permitting and a bid for proposals. The anticipated construction timeline is between 2025 and 2028.
The Taylor Creek Restoration Project is funded by SPU drainage and wastewater rates, and SPU is the lead agency on the project. A partnership has also been established between SPU and SPR to make joint decisions around the greenspace management of the site, with feedback from the community, private and public property owners, tribal governments, regulatory agencies, granting agencies, King County, and more.
Those who are interested in participating in the community engagement process around the Taylor Creek Restoration Project should subscribe to the project mailing list to receive email updates.
Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the interim managing editor of the South Seattle Emerald, editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, and a member of the Seattle Arts Commission. They are also a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. Their latest short film, Reckless Spirits (2022), is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy, for which they are working on a feature-length version. Follow them at @hellomynameisvee or over at veehua.com
📸 Featured Image: Photo by BWorks; used under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA)
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