Some of the most significant battles pitted Magnolia citizens against public agencies. A battle with the U.S. Army eventually brought Discovery Park into the Seattle parks system. A battle against the Port of Seattle resulted in the Treaty of Magnolia.
Magnolia did not win every battle, and some battles remain unresolved. The battle over the West Point Sewage Treatment Plant, for example, is in remission. The most recent eruption of this 30-year battle resulted in more than 100 conditions to the secondary-treatment construction permit, some of which will forever affect Magnolia and the daily operation of the West Point sewage plant. These conditions also set a precedent for all future construction projects anywhere in the city.
The Settlement Agreement, also a product of this battle, contains the community’s “Bill of Rights” with respect to West Point. Community leaders must guard against public officials ignoring the requirements of this and similar documents. The Battle for West Point will probably erupt again sometime in the future.
West Point, at the western tip of Magnolia is one of the very few beaches in the central Puget Sound basin that is accessible at high tide and also near a large urban population. This alone makes West Point beaches valuable as a recreation resource.
The bluffs above West Point have magnificent views of Puget Sound and of the Olympic Mountains. Yet, its most valuable asset — limited vehicular access — is what makes it unique in an urban area. Someday, Seattle residents will see the removal of the existing sewage-treatment facilities to further this goal.
The West Point Lighthouse, constructed in 1881, was accessible by a narrow dirt road down a steep bluff. In 1886, the City of Seattle swapped 700 acres with the owners and then deeded this land and West Point to the U.S. Army.
Fort Lawton was intended to protect the new naval shipyard at Bremerton, Wash., but it has never been clear from whom. Thus, West Point became further isolated from the general public, although many Magnolia residents had access to the fort and West Point beaches.
While Seattle was ensuring its citizens had access to nature in an urban environment, it was also facing the challenge of dealing with what to do with the sewage generated by an increasing population. The Fort Lawton tunnel is an early element in Seattle’s sewage plan. This is an underground, 12-foot-diameter, brick structure extending from Interbay to the North Beach, generally following West Emerson Place and West Commodore Way. The tunnel and a collection system brought sewage from most of Seattle’s shoreline outfalls to West Point. Construction on this 3.5-mile sewage tunnel began in 1911 and went into service in 1913. The shallow outfall at the end of this tunnel discharged raw sewage just a few hundred feet offshore. Sewage drifted with the wind and tidal currents, while contaminating most of Magnolia’s beaches and even Golden Gardens. This situation became worse as Seattle’s population grew.
Public concern over pollution in Lake Washington led to a public vote in 1958, creating the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, also known as Metro, to solve sewage-treatment problems on a regional basis. Metro planned construction of large treatment plants at West Point and Renton and took over management of the existing treatment plants at Alki, Carkeek and Richmond beaches. Metro closed the other treatment plants, including those discharging into Lake Washington.
A new interceptor diverted Eastside sewage to a treatment plant near Longacres in Tukwila, Wash, discharging directly into the Duwamish River. The existing Fort Lawton tunnel already collected sewage from most of Seattle, thus West Point became the site for the other new treatment plant, which used a new deep-water outfall.
The West Point facility became operational in 1966 on beach property leased from the Army. Some shoreline fill along the North Beach buried a new pipeline connecting the Fort Lawton tunnel to the plant located near the lighthouse. Metro leased an additional 40 acres of North Beach tidelands from the Department of Natural Resources for possible future expansion. Metro also constructed a sludge lagoon with a barrier wall of large rocks called a riprap on the South Beach.
The new primary treatment plant drastically altered the beauty of West Point but removed a major source of pollution from local beaches.
The beach at West Point is back in the news, specifically regarding a 2013 proposal to install a security gate to control vehicle access to the beach, permit-only parking area, lighthouse and treatment plant. According to the King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) website, “West Point Wastewater Treatment staff and Seattle Parks and Recreation staff have responded to driftwood fires, illegal parking that blocks access to the treatment plant and trespassing after-hours.”
Following a community meeting in December 2013, Seattle Parks and Recreation and WTD made the decision to suspend the gate project to conduct an in-depth “alternatives analysis” this summer. Enforcement of existing laws — including ticketing and towing illegally parked cars — will be stepped up to see if that approach alleviates safety concerns.
The data-collection period will wrap up at the end of the summer, and there will be another public meeting sometime in late fall 2014 to present the findings.
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Phillips (District 4) is strongly against the security gate. He would like to see increased shuttle-bus service between the Discovery Park Visitor Center and the beach. He believes that increased beach access will lead to a self-policing effect, ultimately reducing any criminal activity in that area.
Free shuttle buses, funded by the Associated Recreation Council, currently run during weekends only in the summer. This year, shuttles will run on weekends from June 21 through Labor Day, from 11 a.m. until 4:30 pm.
The full history of the treatment plant, “The Twenty-Year Battle for West Point” can be found in the book “Magnolia: Memories & Milestones,” available from the Magnolia Historical Society (www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org).
JOELY JOHNSON MORK is a board member of the Magnolia Historical Society. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.