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Neighborhood is all wet

Resident worries that tree cutting has caused drainage problems

Developer Roland Fretland makes stormwater runoff sound like something beautiful.

He envisions swales meandering through his neighborhood of Craftsman-style condominiums, directing the streams into a storm drain at the base of his property. From there, the water goes into the town’s drainage ditch and into the harbor.

Neighbor Chuck Settles is having trouble seeing the vision — particularly when his basement is flooded and his lawn saturated from stormwater runoff he says is coming from Fretland’s deforested land.

Fretland said he removed two logging trucks’ worth of timber last year from his sloping property adjacent to the University of Washington Labs property. His Gateway Development Co. is building 16 condominiums in two phases on the site, bordered roughly by Perry Street, the U.W. Labs property, Marble Street and the Rosewood Apartments.

“It was our hope that since it (had been owned by) the University of Washington, it would never be developed,” said Jim Settles, Chuck’s son.

Construction began a year ago. Fretland, a partner in Gateway Development, said he expects to be finished in another year.

Gray & Osborne of Tacoma, the Town of Friday Harbor’s stormwater engineers, determined the site needed a water detention system — an underground series of pipes designed to slow the flow of stormwater. Stormwater collects in the pipe; when it reaches a certain level, it flows out a 3-inch diameter hole into the town’s drainage ditch.

Fretland installed 420 linear feet of 24-inch pipe. Problem was, there was no way to direct the sheet of stormwater flowing down the barren hillside into the stormdrain. An engineer with MPD, which designed the system, visited the site last week and told Gateway Development to connect the drain.

By Thursday, a temporary system was installed: Two pieces of pipe, separated by a black tarp and rocks, led from a swale to the storm drain.

Fretland admitted that the drain should have been connected the way MPD designed it. But he doubts that the removal of trees on his property is the sole source of runoff woes on Marble Street. Fretland said water flows underground on the hillside; when digging, he saw water coming out of rock.

Fretland said the swales and landscaping will control runoff. Where there once were pines and cedars, Fretland will plant hawthornes, maples and shrubs.

While Settles is certain that deforestation of the hillside is the chief source of his woes, he points to another potential problem: The town’s drainage ditch on Marble Street. The drainage ditch is filled with silt and grass in most parts. One section of pipe is underground; water is pooled.

Warren Jones of the Community Development Department said drainage ditches are maintained regularly. Advised that the ditch on Marble Street is filled with silt and grass, Jones advised residents to call when they see work that needs to be done. “It takes an action to cause a reaction,” he said.

Meanwhile, Settles is trying to cope with saturation of his property — whatever the cause. “For a year I’ve been getting all the drainage,” said Settles, who has lived in the home since 1950.

His property has a view of Friday Harbor Marina. He has a boat launch he can’t use because he says the ground is too wet. The embankment where he and his family used to barbecue slid into the ocean, taking three trees with it. Settles cut a hole into his basement so water can drain. Four cedars and a madrone are dying. Walk on his lawn and you risk slipping.

“I never had a basement that was damp even,” he said. “All this happened when the trees were taken.”

— Editor Richard Walker reports on local government, politics and economic development for sanjuanjournal.com and The Journal of the San Juan Islands, sister publications of islandsweekly.net and The Islands’ Weekly. He can be reached at (360) 378-4191 ext. 15 or email.

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