New transfer station site irks West Hill residents

Duane and Susan Hatch have merely to step out onto their back porch on Auburn’s West Hill above the city of Algona to see where King County expects to site its new recycling and transfer station.

Just down the bluff, under their feet.

“You could pitch a stone and it would land on it,” Duane Hatch said.

Like others in their Jovita Heights neighborhood, the Hatches want no part of a station there, a possibility they did not envision when they bought their home 21 years ago.

Likewise with many of their neighbors, the Hatches expect the operations of the station and its daily caravan of refuse-laden trucks not only to overwhelm them with noise but to sink their property values.

And then there’s the smell of a transfer station county officials have assured them will be fully contained.

“I went to some of the county meetings on this, and I asked them where they are going to vent this, and they said, ‘Up,’ “ Duane Hatch said. “And they said, ‘Well, nobody complains about the other station sites, and I asked the guy, ‘Do any of those other sites vent up into houses?’ And he said, ‘No, they are all on the same level.’ ”

Most of all, they fear that construction could destabilize the slope and should that happen, theirs could be the first home to tumble down the hill.

For these reasons and more, the Hatches joined the recently-formed West Hill Community Organization, a group whose single aim is to get King County to put the thing somewhere else. Not only has the WHCO created a website to inform interested residents about the issue, it has retained an attorney.

And should push come to shove, said group leader Bill McCauley, he and his neighbors have a good chance to prevail.

“I’m optimistic we can do something about it. First, we’re right. Second, we still live in a democracy, and the thing still hasn’t been decided. And we can have a voice in that,” McCauley said.

According to county officials, the present station, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, has passed its engineered lifespan. After a nearly five-year siting process that included prospective sites in Auburn and Algona, county officials announced Feb. 22 they would build the station in Algona, in a former gravel mine just north of the existing facility at 35101 W. Valley Highway S.

Consensus among the group’s members is that King County could have done better by siting the station at the corner of C Street and 15th Street Southwest, one of the final alternatives.

Scott Robinson, whose home is about 200 feet from the break of the slope over the proposed station, said he does not believe King County took into consideration the people who’ll have to live above it.

‘Landslide risk’

“The thing that needs to be addressed is the landslide risk,” said Robinson. “We’ve got a transfer station now that I don’t notice a whole lot, and this one would be considerably bigger. If they dig into the hill side, they could cause problems.”

Group members said evidence already exists of the hillside’s instability, should King County care to look at it. For instance, there’s the narrow twin roads that constituted the old Algona grade that are now closed because of the expense involved in maintaining them on a moving slope, and the landslides that periodically close West Valley Highway through Algona.

“Yeah, they can mitigate for the wetlands, but that’s just going to add to the cost, and why are going to spend a lot more tax dollars when there are cheaper places they can build this,” said Dick Zimmerman.

This will not be Melinda and Dick Zimmerman’s first go-around with King County. Fifteen years ago the Zimmermans joined their neighbors in a successful effort to keep out a halfway house for sex offenders.

“Maybe it’s because we are in unincorporated King County, and they think we’ll just roll over, but this just happens to be a really nice place to live,” Melinda Zimmerman said. “My feeling is we don’t want any more stuff here – we’re done. This is a high-scale community where people care about each other and live well here. We moved up here when this was all vacant land.”

Like his neighbors, McCauley is highly skeptical of the county’s benign claims about the station.

“They say this thing is going to be a 9-to-5 operation or something like that here, but gee whiz, they are always going to tell you the most optimistic numbers from their perspective,” McCauley said. “More likely, if the Renton processing station closes – and there’s serious talk of that – that stuff has got to go some place. And one of the reasons for this is they want to accommodate that stuff, and that’s going to mean a whole lot of activity down there.”

Kevin and Amy Humphrey have lived for four years on 340th, an estimated 50 feet above the hillside retaining wall.

“Certainly we are concerned about smells and the hillside sliding for any reason. But another thing I am concerned about is if it’s down there, our main shopping centers are down there,” Kevin Humphrey said. “So I am worried about traffic, about people trying to figure how to get in and out of a dump and over to the malls, movie theaters and restaurants.”

Melinda Zimmerman said the City of Auburn should be concerned about the economic impact of the station on the businesses along 15th Street Southwest, and especially on its hub, The Outlet Collection.

Terri Lundberg said she can look out her bedroom window and over the hill, a view she and her husband appreciate, but both are angry that the transfer station was not disclosed when they bought the house recently.

“My husband wants to sell this house already, and I love the neighborhood, so we’re just putting out positive vibes that this thing will not get built,” Lundberg said.

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