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EAS Supports Light Rail and Mercer Slough

The Chapter’s position on the East Link Light Rail

By Andy McCormick, Pete Marshall, and Jan McGruder

On April 20, 2015 the Bellevue City Council voted to approve the revised memorandum of understanding and negotiated agreement reached with Sound Transit on the preferred route for East Link Light Rail line, which will run from I-90 to the South Bellevue Park & Ride north along the east side of Bellevue Way turning right to continue along 112th Ave. NE. On April 23, 2015 the Sound Transit Board of Directors also voted to accept the revised MOU, creating the final agreement on the development of light rail in Bellevue.

EAS Support for East Link Light Rail

The chapter has supported East Link Light Rail since it was first proposed and we opposed two of the route options that crossed the Mercer Slough. Either of those routes would cause much more damage to the slough and the park, than the current agreed-upon route. In addition to the overall route of the line, which Eastside Audubon has supported for six years, the chapter supports several additional specific aspects of the current plan. These are:

1.) The plan for relocation of the Heritage Trail Loop, which runs behind the Winters House and around the blueberry fields,

2.) The acquisition of 6 acres of land along the eastern edge of the park, which will allow linking the trails from the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center to the Mercer Slough Nature Park system. Visitors, including children’s groups, must now walk along a street with no sidewalk to connect to these trails.

3.) The plan for restoring the Sweylochen wetlands at the southern end of the park; this area has been negatively affected by I-90 and invasive plants over the years and could benefit from renovation.

4.) The tree replacement plan, which will add more trees and shrubs and a greater variety of native species of trees and shrubs to the park ecosystem.

These aspects of the plan and the route along the western edge of the park will preserve the integrity of the vast majority of the park land.

Tree Removal and Replacement

Many trees on the western border of the park between the existing park and ride parking lot and 112th Ave NE will be cut down. The loss will be considerable and this has caused concern among many in the neighborhood and some Eastside Audubon members. However, trees will be cut down wherever the light rail line is built. The area that will be affected is at the northern end of the park that has already had an office park development built in it, has land leased for a blueberry farm and borders a very busy thoroughfare, Bellevue Way, where 40,000 cars pass every weekday. The additional loss of trees in this area of the park will have the least affect upon the ecology of the park as a whole.

The environmental mitigation plan specifies the planting of new trees, shrubs and wetland plants which will offset the losses due to construction. The planting plan lists native trees including Shore Pine, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Western and Mountain Hemlock; shrubs including Oregon Grape, Flowering Red Current, Evergreen Huckleberry, and Venus Dogwood; and a variety of ground covers and wetland plants.

Noise Level

Noise is a major consideration for Mercer Slough Nature Park. Quoting from the Environmental Impact Statement, “The portions of Mercer Slough Nature Park adjacent to the project are already dominated by traffic noise from Bellevue Way, I-90, and I-405.” It is an urban park affected by considerable traffic noise from these three highways. Because the current level of noise is so high, it is not expected that the light rail trains will add very much to this current level. If they do, it will be for short periods of time. The birds currently living or passing through the park have adapted to the current level, and although we cannot say for sure how they will respond to light rail trains, we do not expect a large increase in the noise level in the main part of the park.

Eastside Audubon Supports Mercer Slough and Light Rail

Marsh Wren, by Mick ThompsonEastside Audubon has a long history of support for Mercer Slough Nature Park and we are grateful for those who worked to preserve it years ago. The park is listed as a prime birding spot on the Puget Sound Loop segment of the Great Washington Birding Trail. This project will change the Mercer Slough Nature Park but in a small portion of the park. The Mercer Slough is the largest remaining wetland on Lake Washington and the current plan retains the vast majority of the park as an undivided whole.

Photo: Marsh Wren at Mercer Slough, by Mick Thompson

Eastside Audubon has supported the current light rail alignment for six years and members have participated in the process. Many volunteer hours have been spent in research, regular participation in meetings of Move Bellevue Forward, attending city council meetings and council study sessions, personally discussing our concerns with members of the Bellevue City Council, and attending public hearings and information sessions with Sound Transit.

Light rail will have an overall positive effect on the environment by getting hundreds of cars off the road. Moving people from their cars to public transportation is an important strategy for improving our atmosphere by reducing carbon emissions and eventually reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

In January 2015 the chapter began a year-long once-a-month survey of the birds in the park, and at the end of the year we will provide that data to the City of Bellevue. We will also be able to compare the bird population to a census Eastside Audubon conducted in 1994.

We appreciate the concern and support of all Eastside Audubon members for the Mercer Slough Nature Park.

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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.