City council reviews update to public comment policy, grant for city trees program

Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed (middle right) briefs the Mountlake Terrace City Council via Zoom during its work/study session Thursday night.

Thanks to a recent change in state law, residents will still be able to participate remotely in city government meetings after they return to being held in-person, and the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its May 12 work/study session reviewed an ordinance updating its public comment policy to accomodate that.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, government meetings moved online, and earlier this year the state Legislature adopted a law requiring local government to continue the practice of providing remote attendance and, when requested, remote public comment. The inclusions of remote attendance and remote public comment require updates to the city’s public comment policy.

The council previously discussed the necessary policy changes last month and also provided staff with additional recommendations that were incorporated into the amended ordinance.

Current policy allows members of the public to speak for five minutes per person during public comments at regular business meetings and two minutes per person at work/study sessions. Although the total time allotted for public comments at the work/study sessions is officially capped at 16 minutes, the council can decide to allow for more time if it feels that is necessary.

Councilmembers had recommended that the 16-minute limit for public comments at work/study sessions be eliminated as it has not typically been a factor during those sessions and the council already possesses the discretion to adjust the time allotted to speakers if needed. And public comments during work/study sessions would be scheduled to take place before the council reviews agenda items for the following regular business meeting. Doing so will provide councilmembers with the opportunity, if they wish, to further discuss during council comments any items of concern moving forward.

Also, the public comments portion of regular business meetings would be moved up in the agenda so that it precedes the consent calendar. Councilmembers had reasoned that would then provide people the chance to provide their feedback about those action items before the council votes on them. However, it will still allow for any recognitions and outside guests to make their presentations at the beginning of those meetings before the public comments portion.

The amended draft ordinance would remove the requirement that those offering public comment provide their address. And it also includes some language edits that clarify where public comments should take place within the council chambers location so as not to unintentionally exclude people in wheelchairs or those who might not be able to physically access the public lectern.

In addition, the updated ordinance also includes some minor policy updates. These involve the process for signing up to comment at public meetings, the contact for submitting a request for records, and removing current language about meeting materials being made available at the Mountlake Terrace Library – as only meeting agendas are now posted there and any other materials are made available in advance online.

The council is set to adopt the updated public comment policy as part of the consent calendar during its Monday night business meeting.

Also on Thursday night, Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed reviewed a work order with Osborn Consulting for nearly $111,000 to help complete the development of a stormwater management action plan.

Under its federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, the City of Mountlake Terrace must develop a plan using specific guidance from the Washington State Department of Ecology to improve water quality for one high-priority drainage catchment through stormwater facility retrofits and targeted stormwater actions.

The plan is meant to help cities and counties accommodate future growth and development, while also preventing water quality degradation and/or improving conditions in waters harmed by past development. It can also help to inform any changes made to long-range plans along with associated scheduling and budgetary needs. Development of the plan must be completed by March 31, 2023.

It can also help with various watershed issues such as high bacteria, harmful algae blooms, fish barriers, fragmented wildlife habitat, high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen and toxins.

City staff has already finished with roughly 60% of the work needed to develop the plan, including conducting a comprehensive watershed inventory and watershed prioritization over the past three years. However, the remainder of the work requires the inclusion of new ideas and perspectives, along with expertise in developing potential stormwater retrofit designs and cost projections.

The city doesn’t have adequate staff resources to perform the specialized work needed by the March 2023 deadline. Therefore, staff recommended a contract with Osborn Consulting to provide professional watershed planning services in the form of a work order under a contract the council previously approved for on-call stormwater engineering services. The costs would be paid for by the city’s stormwater fund.

As an added benefit, Reed noted that completing the stormwater management action plan will also help the city gain an early understanding of potential stormwater project costs needed — which will be an essential component of developing the 2024-2030 stormwater capital improvement plan.

Public input will be gathered about the watershed prioritization process that includes an upcoming online discussion about local watershed health scheduled for Thursday, May 19.

In other business, Reed also reviewed a proposed contract for rockery repairs needed along a section of Hall Creek that is near a private residence located in the 6300 block of 213th Place Southwest. That portion of rockery has failed, causing a significant void to open up under the Sellen Construction yard located adjacent to the creek. The city is responsible for repair of the rockery in this location under the conditions of an easement on the property.

The void, which is approximately 4 feet wide and 10 feet deep, extends approximately 10 feet horizontally under the property. As a result, steel plates are necessary to prevent people and equipment from accidentally falling into either the void or the creek.

Public works staff is unable to complete the project due to the complexity of the work needed. Repairing the void requires specialized skills in high-angle rock work and also to reinforce the soils behind the rockery. It would also fix an eroding area along Hall Creek that is causing creek sedimentation downstream.

Therefore, staff recommended that the council authorize a contract for nearly $105,650 with Encore Environmental, LLC. Funding for the contracted repair work was included in the 2021-2022 budget and would be provided by the city’s stormwater fund.

If approved, the rockery repair wouldn’t begin until this summer because it is located immediately adjacent to Hall Creek and the project’s permitting requires the work be completed within the fish window that spans from the beginning of July to the end of September.

Finally, Reed briefed the council about a $23,400 grant the Washington State Department of Natural Resources recently awarded to the City of Mountlake Terrace for a street and parks tree planting program. It includes a multi-year effort to increase canopy throughout the city where it is most needed by planting new street trees and also adding trees to specific areas within local parks.

The program will develop a tree-planting plan for the city that focuses on areas where the tree canopy cover is lowest and human exposure to pollutants from heavy traffic is highest.

Beginning next year, the “Trees for Terrace” program will provide free street trees for residents who agree to plant, water and care for them. Accommodations will also be made available for people who are not physically able to plant the trees but can take on their long-term maintenance needs.

It was noted that a work order with Osborn Consulting will be necessary to help staff with developing interactive online mapping resources for residents to use, providing expertise on street tree program development from other cities and also crafting educational and outreach materials. Those costs would be paid for through a combination of the grant money received and funding from Sound Transit.

Several councilmembers said they were excited about the “Trees for Terrace” program, noting that it would be good for the city, and they looked forward to its implementation.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Monday, May 16 at 7 p.m. It will include a review of the 2021 fourth quarter financial report. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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