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Trash Talkin’: a tour of Recology, is eye boggling and mind opening

“I love talking about trash,” says Jennifer Power. And she’s got the perfect job for that. She’s our tour guide for Seattle’s Recology, a recycling facility or MRF (Materials Recovery Facility).

We were meeting in a large conference room at Recology before the tour to talk about safety and what we would be seeing because once inside the facility it would be too loud for Jennifer to be heard.

 “Has everyone heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?” she asked passing around a jar of colorful plastic pieces floating in water. It’s the largest accumulation of plastics in the ocean (there are about five of them) and is about the size of the United States, she said. Plastic just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it never breaks down completely. Sea turtles eat the plastic pieces thinking they’re jelly fish. Microplastics are now everywhere, even in the air we breathe.

“They’re accumulating in our bodies and we don’t know what is happening with that,” she added.

So, what could we do? Avoid single use plastic for one and recycle the plastic we do use for another although that’s getting harder, we learned, as more and more plastic is mixed with other materials making it nearly impossible to separate out and recycle.

And did people hear about China not taking our recycling anymore, she asked. While that’s true Recology has found other markets for its recycling in India, Thailand, and the Philippines. And Recology, an employee-owned business, vets these markets carefully to ensure they are recycling, creating materials for new products, and not just dumping our recycling in a foreign landfill.

Cascading and flowing recycling

We put on our yellow vests and hard hats and entered the warehouse. It was loud as Jennifer warned and a surreal landscape of mountains of trash recycling that were being moved around and tumbling down like waterfalls onto conveyer belts that moved all around like rivers. Along the banks, workers stood in protective clothing continuously fishing out anything that didn’t belong. They rotated through jobs at the facility, said Jennifer, never spending more than a couple of hours at one task.

Sorting technology is ever changing with machines that can register what is recyclable and whisk it away. One plastics sorting machine uses lasers to identify the plastic it wants and shoots a gust of air at it to direct it to the proper conveyer belt. Other machines use magnets to pick out the metals.

After the tour, when we got back to the meeting room, there were more questions. One woman from a Capitol Hill artists’ co-op had brought a lunch sack full of items wanting to know what could be recycled. “Careful,” she warned as Jennifer opened the sack.

“I handle trash all day,” scoffed Jennifer, making everyone laugh.

The sack included the plastic pump from a bottle, non-recyclable, and a variety of wrappers made of different sorts of composite material, like mylar, that’s nearly impossible to recycle. The same was true of cosmetic tubes and cases — non-recyclable. A plastic prescription bottle could maybe be recycled at a pharmacy, but no one knew of any that did that. Disappointingly nothing the woman brought was recyclable. “Except,” said Jennifer, “this!” holding up the brown paper bag carrying the trash.

Someone asked how she stayed so upbeat in the face of a topic that seemed as overwhelming and intractable as, well, a landfill.

“If enough people care we can get to a better place to make decisions,” she said. And she sees a lot of hope with the younger generation. Studies have shown that when kids learn something, they can change their parent’s behavior, she noted, better than any campaign. Kids have a shaming effect on their parents – why aren’t we doing this Mom and Dad?

The kids say to her, “We don’t want the turtles eating plastic…”

Our tour was organized by Eastlake resident Olga Lazareva who wrote an article about recycling for the summer edition of the Eastlake News, a community newsletter. More than 12 people signed up for the July 18 tour; the goal was ten. “It was exciting to see that we were not alone in our quest for knowledge, but part of a full room of people who care about our environment and the planet,” said Olga later in an email.

Public tours are offered quarterly at Recology, check out their website.

What you can do:

Compost – this one is huge because food waste in a landfill doesn’t get the air and light necessary to biodegrade. In fact, about the opposite happens. Trashed food adds to climate change by creating methane gas. According to the EPA, “When food goes to the landfill, it’s similar to tying food in a plastic bag. The nutrients in the food never return to the soil. The wasted food rots and produces methane gas.”

And methane gas fuels global warming.

It’s counterproductive to put food waste in the garbage, put it in the compost where it can help rebuild the earth’s soil.

Keep your recycling clean and dry – Paper needs to be clean and dry, as do bottles, cans, and plastics. Please make sure not to leave your paper boxes out in the elements, otherwise, it can’t be recycled. This will make life easier for your recyclers and have the added benefit of keeping your recycling bins clean too!

Know that plastic recycling is complicated (but not impossible!) — not all plastics can be recycled even though they suggest that. But things like vitamin, ketchup, soda, water, milk, and detergent bottles can be recycled (hard plastics) as can plastic flower/plant pots. 

That ubiquitous soft plastic used to wrap water/soda bottles, bathroom tissue, produce, etc. can now be recycled at some supermarket drop off locations. To learn more, check out Plastic Film Recycling at plasticfilmrecycling.org

Buy bath items in bulk – items such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, bath salts, and lotion can be purchased in bulk at Central Market in Ballard or Aurora and at all PCC markets. Just bring your own container and fill up. Not only are you reducing plastic waste, these brands are also natural and eco-friendly.

Check out Ridwell, at ridwell.com, a new company that provides a recycling service similar to an old fashion milkman. They provide a box and bags for doorstep recycling. And every week pick up used batteries, lightbulbs, threads (old clothing, linen, shoes), and plastic film. They let you know of a rotating fifth category so you can plan ahead such as eyeglasses or wine bottle corks.

Review the guidelines from the city of Seattle “Where does it go?”  The city website has a lot of good information for diverting waste and saving money on your garbage bill. You can find out just about where every item needs to go to be disposed of on this site: seattle.gov/utilities/wheredoesitgo.  

Request a special item pick up Styrofoam blocks and used cooking and motor oil can be picked up for free by the same garbage truck that takes your garbage. Request a special item collection online on http://www.seattle.gov/utilities/services/garbage/garbage-at-home/special-collection, or call 206 684 3000. You’ll put those items on a curbside on the same day your garbage gets collected. 

Donate your clothes – Goodwill, Salvation Army and other places access old clothing and fabric. Let your clothes have a second chance!

Consume less

Aim for zero waste!

Photos by Olga Lazareva and Judy Smith. Sketches by Karen Berry. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Eastlake News fall 2019 edition. Olga Lazareva also contributed to this report.

The Flower Lady’s largest bouquet – the business is for sale

“What colors? What fragrance?” asked Vivian Darst when a customer walked into her shop The Flower Lady on Eastlake Ave. saying he wanted to spend $45 on a bouquet. There was a brief discussion of roses before she headed into the cooler full of flowers.

“She’s the best,” the man told me. He’d been coming for years. Did he know the shop was closing? No, he didn’t. It will be a huge loss, he added. “Where will I buy my flowers?”

Vivian came back, her hands full of pink and purple flowers; yes, the lease is up August 31 she told him. (It had been extended from April.) She was still trying to figure out what to do. A broker had brought her a potential buyer, but she didn’t know who it was or if it was going to go anywhere.

After about 10 minutes of arranging flowers and conversation, the man left with a spectacular bouquet and a hug.

This was going to be the hardest part, she said; she would miss her customers.

Vivian Darst at her shop arranging flowers.

The arrangement The Flower Lady would like best is to find a buyer who might also hire her as an occasional employee or consultant. She could help — giving the owner the luxury of vacations she never really got. She’d love to keep her hand in the business doing the floral designing and working with customers, but after 20 years of running the shop and recent rent increases, she’s ready to let someone else worry about making payroll and paying the bills.

Many people remember The Flower Lady’s first stand sprouting up in the mid-1970s at the vacant lot at the corner of Roanoke and Harvard. At that time, it was a scrappy business called Vivian’s Flowers run out of a van with buckets of flowers and a couple of sun umbrellas. (My younger sister got her first job there.)

Eventually she bought part of the property but then got caught in a high-profile zoning battle. News reporters kept referring to her as The Flower Lady.

The legal battle uprooted her to the other side of the freeway.

“Those sun umbrellas outside the store today are pretty much where they were when this place was a vacant lot,” said Vivian.

When the property owner wanted to develop the lot, the flower stand uprooted again this time just several feet over to a vacant lot next to the Larson building. By that time she had the luxury of a shed, and they moved it with a forklift.

The building went up with a space designed specifically for The Flower Lady, and she moved in. It was 700 square feet, palatial to Vivian. Along with flowers, she filled it with gifts and cards, and the store flourished for many years.

This is a good business for someone with a well-off spouse, or if someone can figure out how to sell something else along with the flowers, said Vivian. The eclectic selection of gifts has not done well in recent years. Wine maybe, maybe cannabis, Vivian suggests with a smile as if the thought just occurred to her.

Except for the stuffed animals used in bouquets, the gifts, including a couple of Tibetan rugs hanging from the ceiling, are all 25% off. She’s willing to bargain lower on some things as well.

Whatever happens she’ll keep a hand in the flower business.  It’s in her blood. She’s a third-generation flower dealer. Her grandfather was a farmer who started with a few bulbs when her dad was a boy. Her dad grew flowers his whole life, mostly irises, daffodils, and sunflowers. It kept him going, she said. He was driving and delivering wholesale flowers around the region until he was 95, a year before he died.

But he was always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, Vivian added, and she’s had to do some of that as well to keep the shop going – subsidizing it with income from her rentals.

Still it’s been a joy working here, said Vivian, surrounded by all these beautiful flowers that change with the seasons, and meeting people.

That she doesn’t want to lose it’s clear.

If there’s no buyer for the shop, people will be able to find out what’s next on her website: www.seattleflowerlady.com.

She can see continuing deliveries and taking special orders. She may go back to her roots with what would now be known as a pop-up stand.

Whatever she does she’ll always be The Flower Lady.

Vivian in front of the shop she’s run for over 20 years.

Featured image is a detail from an original painting of The Flower Lady storefront by Jerry Becker Steffen, Jr.

In pursuit of the elusive butterfly garden

I’ve dreamt of having a butterfly garden since my daughter was in preschool. She just graduated from college, and it hasn’t happened yet. But it seems more urgent now than ever.

“Next year,” wrote the New York Times in a recent article, “How to Attract Butterflies,” “the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to include the butterfly on the endangered species list.”

The Times advice was simple — plant more native plants; avoid pesticides.

That same week, the Bellevue Botanical Garden had a lecture on butterflies and garden habitat, and the advice of the lecturer Julie O’Donald, a master gardener specializing in butterflies was the same, but she got more down in the weeds, so to speak. And some weeds as it turns out are just what butterflies need.

“The variety of native plants in a garden increases the diversity of butterflies that will be there,” O’Donald said. Natives like nettles and thistles are good butterfly habitat, she added. (However there was a caveat to that: native thistles are common in the mountains, but many other thistles are invasive.)

O’Donald ran through slides of the different types of butterflies that inhabit the Puget Sound low regions and their host plants. She also showed a slide of her own property bought many years ago as a largely barren landscape.  Now it’s quite lush.

“I cultivated nettles for butterfly caterpillars,” she said showing a slide of nettles in a fenced area near a shed. “But they kept branching out beyond the fence.” (They looked like prisoners longing to be free.) She finally moved them when she and her husband painted the shed. “They were never happy fenced up.”

“People talk about caterpillars becoming butterflies as though they just go into a cocoon, slap on wings, and are good to go,” wrote Jennifer Wright in a tweet that went viral and became a meme on Facebook. “Caterpillars have to dissolve into a disgusting pile of goo to become butterflies,” she went on. “So if you’re a mess wrapped up in blankets right now, keep going.”

We love butterflies because they represent transformation, freedom.

But before they get to that point they start off as creepy crawlers, O’Donald reminded the crowd.

Butterflies have a short but specific life cycle. They lay their eggs on the leaves or flowers of native plants; the eggs hatch into a caterpillar. A caterpillar has no other means of getting food than eating the plant that they’re on, said O’Donald. Plants, it turns out, are the adoptive parents of butterfly young. Butterfly caterpillars just keep eating – with minimal damage to the plant. They eat and grow and finally look for a good hiding place to pupate and form a chrysalis.

The butterfly is the adult part of the lifecycle and hardier than its young. It can eat and drink to a greater variety. It’s out there hitting the nectar bars and looking for a mate and shelter for its young before dying.

Some species of butterflies and flowers have evolved together, and the extinction of one can means the extinction of the other, which is what happened with the Atala butterfly, said O’Donald. It was thought extinct when its host flower the Coontie – a native to Florida – almost went extinct. When plants were found and the flower came back, so too did the Atala butterfly. The story is described in The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Douglas Tallamy.

Many plants and seeds are treated with chemicals, and O’Donald recommends buying only organic. 

“How long will the toxicity last?” someone in the audience asked.

 “Often two years and the soil near the plant may also be contaminated,” said O’Donald.

Finding a good variety of native plants at nurseries is difficult, she admits, but “keep asking for them and someday they’ll get better about carrying them.” They can be found at native plant sales hosted a couple of times a year by the Washington Native Plant Society.

One plant to pass over at nurseries is the butterfly bush. Despite its name, it’s not good for butterflies. (It’s been described as junk food for butterflies.) O’Donald explained why, “The butterfly bush only supplies nectar. It doesn’t provide shelter or food for butterfly caterpillars. And it spreads into natural areas where it competes with native plants.”

Habitat for butterflies doesn’t have to be large. Even a few plants on a balcony will create havens and resting places for butterflies to land, said O’Donald.

Butterflies are iconic. We see them in advertising, in art, in design, on book covers, in display windows, and in memes. You almost can’t go a day without seeing one. They’re everywhere, those butterflies, and nowhere.  An actual butterfly is a rare find.

O’Donald’s advice — just start planting.

“Start small,” she says, “While you’re busy doing other things these plants will take off.”

And so will actual butterflies.

Julie O’Donald’s butterfly garden with asters and autumn helenium in the foreground and apple trees and grapevines beyond.
Free and happy nettles.

Resources for creating a butterfly garden and learning more about butterflies:

Common butterflies of the Puget Sound Region and their food plants

Make your yard bee [and butterfly] friendlier

National Wildlife Federation

Washington Butterfly Association

Xerces Society

Red Robin site will hatch a pizzeria

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, two former Microsoft employees, John Genna and Moritz Loew, will open a pizzeria called “Johnny Mo’s,” at the old Red Robin Restaurant site now being redeveloped as Robin’s Nest. As the PSBJ writes:

Loew, who grew up in Chicago, and Genna, of New York, are bringing the “powerhouse” styles of pizza to Seattle, Genna said. The restaurant will pay homage to the heritage of those styles and nod to the Red Robin with its brick aesthetic and mural.

“We understand how iconic that place is for Seattle,” Genna said.

The two have ties to the neighborhood. They owned a boat moored near the Red Robin and frequented the restaurant in the late ’90s when they both worked at Microsoft.

The restaurant will employ about 25 to 35 people, and the owners hope to open it sometime in July.

The Robin’s Nest site is a complex of two buildings separated by an L-shape courtyard. The pizzeria will be in the left building street level. The rest of the complex will be 61-63 apartment units with approximately 20 parking spaces. Photo taken July 2, 2019.
Say “goodbye” (for now) to the floating sidewalk on Lake Union

There are many gems on Lake Union, but one that mostly locals know about (and fiercely protect) is about to disappear. It’s the floating sidewalk adjacent to the Fairview bridge that is itself adjacent to the historic City Light Steam Plant building.  The old wooden trestle bridge has done its time and must go and along with it the hidden floating sidewalk – you can’t see it from the roadway.

But it’s there all the same, down a stairway, offering a brief, delightful refuge from the street. It’s also one of the few places where you can get close to the lake and view a wide vista, as a friend of mine noted. Close, for sure, you’re walking right on it; it’s open space, a de facto park.

Pedestrians love the floating sidewalk beside the Fairview trestle.

The bridge will be replaced with something earthquake proof, streetcar ready, sturdy and modern with bike lanes and look out points. At first there were only vague promises of bringing back the floating sidewalk.  It was dependent on budget and permitting, said the city, and that didn’t sound promising. But MariLyn Yim, SDOT project manager, confirms the floating sidewalk will be rebuilt.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

She had to do “some trading and swapping and talking [to get] the floating walkway OK’d,” wrote Jules James, one of its fierce defenders, in an email.

Closure and demolition of the bridge is expected to happen this fall, once improvements to Aloha Street are complete as that will be the detour route.

The roadway next to the historic Steam Plant building is actually an old wooden trestle, reinforced over the years.

Some are predicting major traffic jams with the closure of this 500 foot segment, but that’s what they said about the viaduct too and that just wasn’t the case

Catch the old floating sidewalk now while you still can. It’s just a stone’s throw from MOHAI and the Center for Wooden Boats. Walk up Eastlake Ave. for a close-up view of the historic Steam Plant and its remarkable tilework. (Eastlake Ave. is its front.) Next door is the even older Hydro House, open for breakfast and lunch weekdays with an outdoor patio that faces the lake and overlooks the old bridge.

Featured floating sidewalk sketch by Karen Berry.

Denser development coming

Owners of the Cortina, located at the opposite southern corner from Serafina, at 2001 Eastlake Ave., have submitted plans to the city to tear down the two buildings that make up the 1957 22-unit apartment complex, according to a May 21 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article. The proposal for the site takes advantage of the new 65-foot up zoning, notes the Journal. The owners, Graham Capital Group, plan a six-story, 90-unit apartment building with retail and commercial space and 35 underground parking space, as well as room for 95 bike stalls.

This old house on Eastlake may be replaced with a six-story 30-unit building, no parking.

Another parcel taking advantage of the new up zone, is between the Cortina and Serafina, an old house, at 2031 Eastlake Ave. Plans were submitted for it to be replaced, according to a May 20 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article, with “a six-story building with 30 units, no parking and possibly 600 square feet of commercial space.”

Shaking things up: Eastlake Hub’s first all-city drill

Last Saturday’s Eastlake Hub drill simulated a “Seattle Fault” 6.7 magnitude earthquake and a four-foot seiche on Lake Union, which is not a tsunami but is a lot of violent sloshing back and forth in the lake’s basin.

“We’re assuming the worst,”’ said Jess Levine, Eastlake Hub’s Public Information Officer for the day. “People won’t be able to get over I-5 or the University Bridge. Eastlake would be cut off, and we don’t have a lot of resources,” he added, noting that the nearest fire station would be in Belltown because Station #22 across I-5 on Roanoke wouldn’t be able to reach Eastlake until all bridges are certified safe by SDOT.

I-5 could conceivably be an impassable canyon dividing the city.

“Some people could be coming here injured and hysterical,” Jess said referring to Rogers Playfield where the hub drill was being held and is Eastlake’s information clearing house should disaster strike.  The hub won’t have supplies though. Individuals and families need to prepare for themselves.  But it will be the communications center.  “The city is telling people to be prepared for at least two weeks of being off the grid,” said Levine.  That means no electricity, no gas, no water, no phone, and no internet.

Seattle hubs are all volunteer run, and Eastlake was one of 14 neighborhood hubs participating in the city-wide “Seattle Fault” earthquake drill June 1. Eastlake Hub currently has nine active members, and after Saturday’s drill will likely be adding new members. The public was invited to stop by, participate, and sign up for email notices. “We plan to have more local drills and share preparedness information,” said Margaret Sanders, Eastlake Hub Captain, to get Eastlake prepared.

Hub volunteer Anne Bonn and Eastlake Hub Captain Margaret Sanders discuss a message that has come in. In the foreground is the jar with the day’s possible scenarios.

The biggest need right now, she added, is for more radio operators, either GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) for communicating with family and friends when cell service is limited or out, as well as with other hubs, or ham for communicating with the city and for that matter anywhere in the world.

KC McNeil is Eastlake’s only ham radio operator affiliated with the hub. He became one after joining the hub last year when he realized there was no one to fill the role.

KC and Margaret both expressed the hope that other ham radio operators who live or work in Eastlake will sign on to help in emergencies.

When a scrap of paper with the day’s possible scenarios was pulled from a jar, this one – a sewer break on Fairview Avenue, with raw sewage pouring onto the street, KC radioed that information to the city on the ham radio.

“This is a drill,” he began, reading off the message prepared in careful legible block caps as recommended by the planners. It wasn’t clear if Columbia Tower, Seattle’s headquarters got the message. They never responded.

There are issues, KC said.  He had tested the ham radio at the top of the hill on Boylston Ave. earlier, where it seemed to work fine, but down the hill on Rogers Playfield where he was set up, it was apparently not working so well. They may need to find the money to purchase an antenna for the playfield or a stronger radio, he added.

At any rate that’s what the drill was for – to help sort out those types of issues.

KC McNeil listens to the radio. He has both a ham and GMRS radio at the table.

Besides trying to get messages out to the city and other hubs and hearing from them, the hub had a makeshift communications network for neighbors spread out along the fence around the tennis courts. The fence served as a message board for people to put up notices of what they needed and others to respond or add what they had to share, and for one hub volunteer to write the latest news on a large board.

It also provided laminated posters of what to do if the water was out; how to make potable water, how to set up makeshift toilets; how long food will last in the fridge or freezer with no power (advice: don’t open the doors). 

“We need a lot more volunteers,” said Jess, “to fulfill the various roles and be interchangeable – nobody knows where they’ll be when the big one strikes. They may not even be in the neighborhood at all. The hub is cross-training because of that uncertainty.

Hub volunteer BJ Bergevin writes down the latest news for the community to read at the emergency drill, “Full electricity outage.”

“The hub is being formed for all types of emergencies not just earthquakes,” he added. “Besides, it’s good for community building.”

If you’d like more information about programs, training or volunteer opportunities for the hub, check out the http://seattleemergencyhubs.org  or http://www.seattle.gov/emergency-management/prepare. Eastlake Hub also has information for condo associations.

If you’re interested in becoming a radio operator, there are two options: GMRS will allow you to communicate locally, and there are no classes or tests to take, just a fee for a five-year license. Getting a ham license is more involved, on a par with getting a driver’s license, although some would say not even that hard. Classes are offered periodically in the area, and you no longer need Morse code to qualify. You just need to know the protocols, and you’ll be able to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Ham radio waves can go to the moon and back.

Featured photo at top — left to right hub volunteers: KC McNeil, Kathi Woods, and Anne Bonn

Electric seaplanes could fly over Lake Union in coming years

As a 20-year inhabitant of Eastlake, the roar of seaplanes flying overhead has become a familiar and even comforting sound.  But emerging technology could make those overflights much quieter, and a lot more sustainable.

Electric airplanes powered by batteries are beginning to appear.  Harbour Air, which partners with our own Kenmore Air on daily flights between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., announced plans to convert its fleet to all electric.  With 37 planes, Vancouver-based Harbour is the largest seaplane-alone airline in North America, and aims to become the first all-electric airline of any type in the world.

The company is starting test flights this year by converting a De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, familiar to Lake Union residents as the smaller, and to my experience noisier, planes flown by Kenmore.  The aim is to gain approval of aviation regulators in the U.S. and Canada, and begin passenger service by 2021. Batteries will provide 100 miles range, or about 60 minutes flight time, leaving a reserve for Harbour’s average 30-minute flight time. 

Electrified aviation in development comes in forms from personal to larger commuter aircraft by companies including Boeing and JetBlue, and promises to reduce air pollution and climate-twisting carbon pollution, not to mention sound pollution.  Vancouver and Seattle, mostly hydropowered, offer some of the lowest-carbon electricity on Earth.  Harbour already claims carbon neutrality, based on offset purchases since 2007.

Redmond-based electrified aviation company MagniX will supply the electrical system. “Batteries remain the limiting factor for electrical propulsion in aviation, said Roei Ganzarski, MagniX’s CEO and a former Boeing executive,” Bloomberg reports.  “‘By 2025, 1,000 miles is going to be easily done,’ Ganzarski said, based on the evolution of current battery technologies. ‘I’m not saying 5,000 miles, but 1,000 miles, easily. I don’t think that’s far-fetched or a pie-in-the-sky thing.”

Electrek, a site devoted to electrified transportation concludes, “Converting seaplanes seems like a good fit, and the two companies also seem to have found a good sweet spot in flight range. Converting all of Harbour Air’s ‘seaplanes into ePlanes’ isn’t going to happen overnight, but even so, this is a milestone.”

Eastlake seaplane historian Jules James has some skepticism.   “My feeling is it is technically feasible, but not financially.  They can get 30 minutes of paid flying time on one charge.  Each charge takes an hour.   Dock space is precious.  I can’t have a seaplane fueling up for an hour on a busy day.”

My hit, having worked professionally studying alternative vehicle fuels including electricity, hydrogen and biofuels, is that battery technology is rapidly improving and coming down in price. Fueling with voltage will be cheaper, and upfront costs can do nothing but come down.  Fast charging could solve the problem Jules cites. Electricity is not going to power jetliners to Europe anytime soon.  But for smaller planes up to intercity commuter aircraft on the Horizon Air level, electricity is the future. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Patrick Mazza

Seaplane sketch by Karen Berry

My Garden with Andie

I met Andrea (Andie) Ptak, five years ago in a class for bloggers where I learned, unrelated to the class, (but maybe the most useful thing to come out of it) that she had converted her yard into a native plant garden and certified backyard habitat.

When I drove up to Andie’s house in South Seattle last Saturday for an interview in honor of Native Plant Appreciation Week, this week, she was standing outside surveying her work.

Her front yard was abuzz with low flying bees working the Lithodora. “It’s not native but the bees like it,” says Andie who is in her mid-sixties. “I leave the dandelions alone, at least until there are more flowering plants,” she adds, noting the few dandelions that spotted the yard. (Dandelions are after all a native, and the bees first food coming out of hibernation.)

Andie is talking a mile a minute pointing out all the natives – native violets, native bleeding hearts, native irises, more than I can quickly write down.  All these plants I’ve heard and seen pictures of but never been able to find.

“It’s very hard to find natives at nurseries,” Andie says, “You have to wait for the native plant sales.”

And those only happen a couple of times a year.

I know. I’ve been trying to cultivate a backyard habitat since my daughter was in preschool. A butterfly garden sounded good; it would take food (native plants), water and shelter, but it never went anywhere.  

The sales are daunting. Full of pots with straggly bits of green in them – it’s hard to know what you’re buying or what to do with it unless you’re an expert.

And Andie is. She’s a Certified Master Urban Naturalist, a titled she earned in 2015 through an intensive 6-month program at Seward Park offered by the Audubon Society. Completion required doing a major project, and hers was a Native Plant Super Saturday that she organized at the park.

She also wrote about gardening with native plants for the blog that she started back when I knew her, The Green Queen of Moderation. It has tips on being sustainable and thrifty and not feeling you must be zealous about it; that’s the moderation part.

Next, we head to her back yard which is about six times as large as the front. Both were just pure grass she tells me, when she and her husband Aaron bought the place. Not even a tree. Now there are native and fruit-bearing trees and bushes throughout. Andie’s yard is about half native, half non-native. If the non-natives are not invasive, they’re fine. About a third of the back yard is covered in wood chips and serves as a dog run for their two Golden Retrievers, Paprika and Cayenne, “The Spice Girls.”

The dogs follow us into the back yard living up to their names. Paprika, the older dog, is mellow and sweet, and Cayenne, about seven months, is excitably jumping on me almost every chance she can get, which is flattering. Andie keeps warning her off, finally calling Aaron to take her away.

“Maybe you should have called her Cinnamon,” I offer.

The garden in back has meandering paths, with bird baths, yard art, a trellis enclosed patio, and other seating areas. It’s just starting to come into bloom. There are more natives back here from flower to fern to ground cover to tree. Hidden within this garden is a loosely fenced-in food garden with large blueberry bushes, a ground cultivated for planting vegetables, and another area with raspberry canes. 

Why native? So many reasons, Andie says, they support the pollinators. That’s a big one as she writes in her blog, “As our population grows, mankind encroaches on the natural world, pushing out species of both plants and animals—some to the state of extinction. There’s not a lot I can do personally to save the tiger or polar bear, but I can make sure that area songbirds have plenty of food and a place to nest, and that bees and butterflies have sources for nectar.”

Native plants also conserve water, she adds, because they’re acclimated to our climate of wet winters and dry summers. And they’re beautiful. “They’re not as showy as the non-natives,” she admits, “and they’re hard to cultivate in pots, and that’s likely why they’re hard to find at the nurseries.” 

They’re also not as straggly as I feared.  Her natives are thick, growing in dense clusters. Andie’s yard will be lush come summer. They spread and reseed themselves, says Andie. She also helps them along by dividing and replanting. What started as just a couple of small pots picked up at a native plant sale has spread to cover nearly every inch of her yard.

Native plants are low maintenance once established, which is what attracted me to them, but they’re also slow to grow.

I started by planting a few natives in one bare spot in my yard, throwing water on them regularly as they took root.  But I never really had time to cultivate them. Sometimes years would go by with barely a weed being pulled. Now, these many years later (my daughter is about to graduate from college), they’ve taken off. They’re crowding each other out. The Tall Oregon Grape, Low Oregon Grape, Inside-out Flower, Sword Fern, Columbine, Kinnikinnik, a Mock Orange, which everyone loves, and a Red-Flowering Current. Only the hardy Salal didn’t take. Go figure.

The Red-Flowering Current went from being a couple of feet tall to over six feet and almost as wide. Recently trudging home from work, I came upon it in bloom spilling forth pinkish red blossoms that lifted my spirits. Then if that wasn’t enough a hummingbird was zipping around them.

Seeing Andie’s garden, I’m inspired. Maybe a backyard habitat is still within reach.

Nodding toward the non-natives as I’m leaving, Andie tosses out why she keeps them with the natives, summing up what I’m looking for in a garden, “You can live here if I don’t have to do too much for you.”

Andie’s Native Early Blue Violet
Andie’s Native Iris
Andie’s Native Bleeding Heart
My Red-Flowering Current (that humming birds love)

Native Plants seen in Andrea Ptak’s yard:

Trees

Black Hawthorn

Red Twig Dogwood

Shrubs

Evergreen Huckleberry

Mock Orange

Red-Flowering Current

Low Oregon Grape

Ferns

Sword Fern

Ground Cover

Oxalis

Early Blue Violet

False Lily of the Valley

Kinnikinnik

Wild Strawberry

Inside-out Flower

Flowers

Columbine

Bleeding Heart

Iris

Camas

Lupine

Fleabane

Asters

Penstemon Azures

The Tale of the Swale on Yale

South Lake Union is home to forward-thinking environmental design. One of the most innovative design features, a form of green infrastructure, is what’s known as the Swale on Yale. It’s two swales actually (one in the 400 block of Yale St. and the other parallel to it on Pontius St.), and it’s about to swell to two more (just south of both locations in the 300 block of both streets).

The swales give South Lake Union a bit of moorland feel, but beyond the aesthetics these stretches of grassland are working to treat Capitol Hill storm water roadway runoff before it reaches Lake Union.

Technically the swales are known as the Capitol Hill Water Quality Project, a public private collaboration between the city of Seattle and Vulcan Real Estate; KPFF Consulting Engineers also played a key role.

“When the swales were planned (in the early 2000s),” wrote Jason Sharpley of Seattle Public Utilities, in an email exchange, “there were no regional scale biofiltration swales treating stormwater from ultra-urban roadways that we were able to find.”

“Typically, swales were used on a more limited, roadway scale to treat and convey stormwater runoff from the adjacent roadway.”

The project was so unique that the Seattle Design Commission created a special award, an “In the Works “ Excellence Award, that they won in 2011. The swales came online in 2015.

Working swale on the 400 block of Pontius St.

“Since completing the first pair of swales there has been a lot of interest and there may be new systems in other cities.”

Seattle’s steep slopes helped propel the innovation. “We have the right topography for this,” says Dave Schwartz of KPFF Consulting Engineers. The slopes make it easier to divert water to where you want it, which makes cleaning it easier too. And that’s what the swales do, filter and clean. They’re made up of densely planted grasses, “a mixture of sedges, which have edges, and rushes, which are round,” says Schwartz describing his mnemonic means of distinguishing them. 

They clean roadway runoff that “includes everything that you see, and don’t see, that is on the roadway,” says Sharpley.  “This includes brake dust from cars that carries copper, dissolved metals from galvanized fences, and bacteria from wildlife and pet waste. The swales and pretreatment that make up the Swale on Yale system do a good job of removing a significant portion of the pollutants.”

The Swale on Yale couldn’t have been done without developer help, says Schwartz, stressing the huge role that Vulcan Real Estate played in making the public private partnership happen. Vulcan provided technical and profession assistance along with contributing about $1.3 million toward design and construction. Most critically they provided the easement to the city. Developers are playing key roles in creating environmental projects that provide a greater good, says Schwartz, noting another public private project under the Aurora Bridge, rain gardens catching bridge water runoff. “Not all try to just make money and destroy the world,” he added.

Planted in rain garden soil which is a bonus for filter, the grasses catch toxic sediment from the water as it takes its time to mosey through the swale, at least nine minutes.

But even before the water reaches the swales it’s run through a diversion tank that uses centrifugal force to flush out “floatables,” a nice name for trash such as cups, straws, and cigarette butts.

From the diversion tank, controlled amounts of water are released into the swales evenly so as not to overflow them and to keep their integrity intact.

The swales then drain into a discharge pipe and the water is released to the lake.  “The water is not drinkable,” says Sharpley, “but significantly cleaner than when it entered the swale.” 

New swale plantings on the 300 block of Pontius St.

The two new swales will come online once the plants mature. For now they look like woven works of art running between the sidewalk and roadway. Once they are put to work, the system will be able to treat the full design flow of 7.2 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than 3,000 gallons a minute. The older swales treat half that capacity today. The full swale build-out will treat 435 acres of storm water runoff from Capitol Hill’s 630-acre basin.

The Swale on Yale captures the dirtiest water from both small storms and the early runoff from larger storms. Thanks to this pioneering green infrastructure, Lake Union is much cleaner than it otherwise would be and could become cleaner still with even more projects like the Swale on Yale.

The Swale on Yale — 400 block, with city workers maintaining it.