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Bainbridge buzzing over Blossom Hill soil swap

Like the hole that marks their origin, the mountains of dirt – atop the triangle of land bordered by Fletcher Bay, Bucklin Hill and Lynwood Center roads – are growing.

The dirt will eventually be loaded into dump trucks and hauled a short distance south to a new resting place, beneath the Blossom Hill development taking shape on the hillside above Lynwood Center.

Simply put, the project is a soil swap: Blossom Hill is getting about 2,200 dump truck loads of workable sand in exchange for a larger amount of less desirable glacial till that will go back into the ground at the borrow site.

The project has piqued the curiosity of passing motorists, and raised questions about its possible impacts on underground water in the area, since there is an aquifer beneath the dig site and several wells nearby.

Some neighbors simply can’t get over the enormity of the hole and its associated piles, which were enough to prompt long-time contractor and Lynwood Center resident Charlie Christenson to take his first trip to City Hall.

“I’ve never been in here before,” Christenson said last week at the planning counter. “But when I saw this... I can’t even imagine something like this going on. I guess there are no rules here anymore.”

A grade-and-fill permit for the work was issued by the city last month to Nelson, Wood and Glass, the firm behind the Blossom Hill project.

Project managers Bill Nelson and Norm Landry said the dig site – owned by Wing Point resident Bill Moore – has long been used as a source of sand, as have other nearby sites that have since been capped without causing damage to the aquifer.

As part of the permitting process, the firm was required to pay for an outside evaluation of the project’s potential impacts.

Completed by Bainbridge-based Aspect Consulting, the study found the project would require mitigation to ensure proper recharge of the aquifer.

“Removal of the sand material and placement of low permeability fill materials will diminish recharge,” it said. “The flux of recharge through the lower permeability materials will be significantly less than under current conditions.”

The study went on to say the total loss of recharge is “relatively small on a basin-wide scale... but has the potential to be locally significant to any existing or future wells completed close to the project.”

Bioswales and infiltration galleries – both modern stormwater management techniques – will be part of the mitigation work. To ease stormwater flow, the perimeter of the site will have a slightly raised berm.

A layer of sand and hydroseed will be placed atop the glacial till. No organic materials will be put into the site.

Work began about three weeks ago, and could take another six weeks, depending on the weather.

“We looked carefully at the risks and are confident in what we’re doing to take care of the aquifer,” Nelson said. “We spent nine months studying this – It’s not just a guessing game.”

But not everyone is satisfied with the Aspect study or the process by which the city permit was issued, according to comments submitted to planners.

Some people were worried about potential impacts of the dig on their wells. Others said the project wasn’t properly noticed, which left an inadequate amount of time for public comment.

South-end resident and hydrologist Douglas Dow said the Aspect study isn’t sufficient.

“While Aspect’s analysis of the possible water quality changes to water passing through these soils may be true, I don’t believe it has any relevance to the question of potential degradation of groundwater under the triangle pit,” he wrote in his comments.

“Without background monitoring of the water quality of the underlying aquifer pre-and post-pit, how can the pit operators determine there has been no degradation?”

Dow, who said he has worked with the city on other projects and is familiar with the area’s hydrology, said he’d prefer to see the work stopped until a more thorough analysis can be done.

City Planner Josh Machen said Aspect has been monitoring the work and will be required to sign off on the final product. He said he isn’t aware of any negative impacts associated with past excavations of sand that had happened nearby.

“Those projects were closer to the well sites,” he said. “If there were problems, we probably would have seen them show up by now.”

Along with the city and Aspect, the Kitsap County Health District reviewed the plans.

The excavation falls just short of being a mining project, a designation that would have required additional permits.

The excavation area is permitted to be just under three acres in area and 15 feet deep. Originally the plan was to haul the Blossom Hill dirt to Suquamish, but Nelson said their chosen option is better because it reduced fuel costs and emissions from trucks having to take loads off the island.

Trucks traverse about a mile of roadway before dropping loads at the Blossom Hill site, which will soon transform the area around Lynwood Center.

The first four mixed-use buildings will begin to rise at the bottom of the hill this summer, and should be finished by 2010. Over the next five years, some 80 residential units are slated to fill out the hillside.

Meanwhile, Moore said he hopes the triangle of land he’s owned since 1989 will be improved when the excavation is finished.

He doesn’t have any plans to develop it, but said it’s been prone to problems in the past, including off-roading, drinking parties and bonfires. The appearance of junk on the lot has also been routine.

Moore said he hauled away $3,500 worth of garbage a few years ago – three rusted cars were among the load – and had done his own grading work to limit illegal uses of the land before deciding to partner with Nelson.

He said that when the work is finished the site will look much the same as it did before, hopefully minus some of the old problems.

But even he’s shocked by the way things look now.

“It’s an interesting site,” Moore said. “When you see the pit it looks like they’re getting ready to build the Seafirst Building (skyscraper) – but there’s no Seafirst Building going in.”

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