John Creighton, Candidate for Re-election to Position 1, Seattle Port Commission
Port Candidate Questionnaire
Urban Forest & Green Space
1) IMPACTS FROM PORT OPERATIONS. Many environmental issues are part of the Port’s jurisdiction, including airport and waterfront maintenance, shipping impacts, waterfront use and adjacent land development, oil and coal transportation through the City; the Key Arena and a potential SoDo stadium.
What do you perceive as key environmental and open space issues before the Port? How would you handle them different from the other candidates, with an eye to protecting the local tree canopy specifically on Port-controlled property?
During my first year as President of the Commission, I worked to bring the business and environmental communities together behind the truism that an environmentally sustainable port is a financially successful port, and we established the goal of becoming “the greenest, most energy efficient port in North America.” Under my leadership on the Commission, the Port has implemented over 50 green initiatives with respect to clean water, clean air, habitat restoration, brownfield clean up, recycling and many other areas.
I believe the most significant environmental issues for the Port in the next five years will be: (1) determining the Port’s role in helping moving industry and our region to a post-carbon economy, and (2) properly addressing the impacts to local neighborhoods of growth in passenger traffic at Sea-Tac Airport.
I have led the Port’s efforts to bring aviation biofuels to Sea-Tac Airport. Studies show that using aviation biofuels not only reduces greenhouse gases, it also reduces particulates by 50-70%. This is important to maintaining healthy environments around the airport. Under my leadership last year the Port conducted two studies, one focused on the infrastructure needed to deliver biofuels to the airlines at Sea-Tac and one focused on how the Port can help create a market and stimulate a local supply of biofuels. We are now working with the airlines on implementation.
In addition, during my time on the Commission, I have built strong relationships with local elected officials and community leaders in cities around the airport. In fact, I have the endorsement of four southwest King County mayors and the leader of Quiet Skies Puget Sound. I believe that I am best equipped to work with those mayors and community leaders on initiatives where the airport helps build healthy local communities as we also increase jobs and economic benefit for our region through airport operations.
Lastly, increasing the percentage of urban land covered by tree canopies is critical to maintaining healthy communities. One study indicates that a healthy city should have at least 40% of its area covered by tree canopies. This is even more critical for communities around the airport because tree canopy ecosystemsprovide sight and noise buffers as well as filtering air and water.
2 . LOSS OF OPEN SPACE AND TREES WITH DEVELOPMENT
BACKGROUND: Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Over the last two years, a 25 % increase in new apartment buildings often resulted in the loss of single-family homes with both open space and trees.
In 2014, as Seattle reported 5,546 acres of parks and natural areas, the Trust for Public Lands ranked Seattle’s open space ratio among the lowest of the 200 largest U.S. cities, at 188th – that’s 12th from the bottom.
QUESTION: How can the Port influence the loss of open space, and even to increase open space and greenbelts/tree canopy, as Seattle grows and densifies?
The Port has a strong role to play in helping communities throughout King County and particularly around Port operations maintain healthy ecologies as the region densifies.
Not well known is that the Port owns and manages 21 parks and green spaces across King County, many of them along the Seattle waterfront. During my tenure on the Commission, we have directed Port staff to use all organic fertilizers and techniques in keeping up those parks. As part of our 25-year job growth plan, the Commission has set a goal for the Port to restore 40 acres of habitat in areas near Port operations, particularly along the Duwamish.
When the EPA directed the Port to clean up the brownfield site at Terminal 117 in the South Park neighborhood, I worked with community leaders to determine how best to use the Terminal going forward. After receiving input from residents at a community meeting at South Park Elementary, the Commission directed Port staff to clean up Terminal 117 to a higher standard than what the EPA had mandated and restore river habitat along the property. It was a decision that was good for the environment, good for the local community and good for Port operations — we now will be able to bank the restored habitat as mitigation for a future economic development project.
When I was President of the Commission in 2016, airport staff asked for the Commission’s authorization to cut up to 3,000 trees on and surrounding airport grounds, which was mandated by the FAA because the trees were growing into the airport’s “Flight Corridor Safety Zone”. While staff proposed to replant four “height appropriate” trees for every tree that was cut down, my colleagues and I still had concerns about the sheer number of trees proposed to be cut and whether and how quickly newly planted trees would provide the same ecological benefits as the existing canopies.
After several community meetings, we directed staff to modify the program to be done in stages and to postpone the cutting of several areas with significant conifer growth until the Port did further study.
Under my leadership, the Commission established a $5 million “Airport Community Ecology Fund” aimed at increasing urban tree canopy coverage in the cities of Seatac, Burien and Des Moines. The Port contracted with Forterra to administer part of the fund and has set aside the rest of the fund for community tree-planting small grants.
3. SURPLUS CITY UTILITY PROPERTY PRESERVED AS NEW PUBLIC OPEN SPACE
BACKGROUND: The Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan calls for the addition of 1400 acres of open space by 2035 to accommodate population growth.
QUESTION: What is your opinion of this goal? How might surplus Port properties be preserved as public green and open spaces? What ideas do you have to achieve and/or exceed this goal?
My family moved to King County in 1970. Over that time, there has been tremendous change and urbanization to our region. The early leaders of Seattle neglected establishing the appropriate amount of parks and open spaces within city limits, likely because they were surrounded by such amazing nature in outlying areas. The rejection of Paul Allen’s proposal to create the Seattle Commons was a lost opportunity.
I therefore wholeheartedly support the Comprehensive Plan’s goal and believe that the Port’s initiative to restore areas of habitat can and should be coordinated with city planners. Many of the Port’s surplus properties are outside Seattle city limits and near Sea-Tac Airport; however, the Port can and should be helpful with expanding green spaces in communities surrounding Sea-Tac Airport. That is why I proposed the $5 million Airport Community Ecology Fund; and I am proud my colleagues unanimously approved it.
4. UPDATE THE INTERIM TREE ORDINANCE
BACKGROUND: Currently, the Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI) is responsible for updating the 2009 interim tree ordinance. Eight years have now passed since they were directed to do so, with no action on their part.
QUESTION: How can the Port support updating the Tree Ordinance?
This is something the Port can and should address as part of working with Seattle mayor’s task force on industrial lands.
5) LOSS OF TREE GROVES WITH PORT MAINTANANCE. The Port of Seattle started cutting down trees. Nearly 3,000 trees are to be removed from SeaTac and surrounding areas by 2018. During the first phase of the project, the Port will cut trees on Port of Seattle property only. It will last until March 1. Replanting efforts — made up of dwarf tree specifies and shrubs — will begin shortly thereafter.
The tree-cutting is part of the Port’s “Flight Corridor Safety Program”, which is to ensure that planes land safely. The Port says that if the trees are not removed, the Port could be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the airport can be shutdown.
How do you mitigate the loss of 3000 trees, trying to balance federal aviation safety standard, with the concurrent loss of uncounted trees with the rapid development in the region? How will you replace those trees and where?
As detailed above, the Commission last year after obtaining public input at several community meetings directed Port staff to modify Stage 1 of the program and to postpone the cutting of several areas with significant conifer growth until the Port did further study.
Under my leadership, the Commission established a $5 million Airport Community Ecology Fund aimed at increasing urban tree canopy coverage in the cities of Seatac, Burien and Des Moines. Wealthy neighborhoods should not be the only areas with significant tree canopy coverage, and I am intent that the Port’s Ecology Fund bring those benefits to poor and rich neighborhoods alike. The Port contracted with Forterra to administer part of the fund and has set aside the rest of the fund for community treeplanting small grants.
The Commission also delayed moving forward with Stages 2 and 3 of the Flight Corridor Safety Program (which covers approximately 2,000 of the 3,000 trees proposed to be cut) until the Port does a full Environmental Impact Statement on each stage. I believe all new plantings of trees need to be done in the same communities around the airport where trees are removed.
6. PROTECT TREE GROVES
BACKGROUND: Seattle’s interim tree ordinance protects existing groves of trees (group of 8 or more trees 12” in diameter), but DCI has proposed removing this protection.
QUESTION. How can the Port support a policy of protecting tree groves to conserve these special groupings of habitat and canopy cover?
The Port of Seattle is a county-wide entity and therefore having healthy communities not just in Seattle but county-wide is important to the Commission and staff at the Port. The Port can and should be a voice for protecting groves of trees in communities all across the county.
7. BETTER PROTECTION OF HERITAGE AND EXCEPTIONAL TREES
BACKGROUND: Larger trees, (especially conifers in winter months) provide significantly more ecological value to Seattle’s green infrastructure, by reducing storm water runoff, cleaning pollutants from the air, and providing animal habitat.
QUESTION: Do you support giving greater protection to large trees like Heritage Trees and Exceptional trees on Port properties or in projects that the Port oversees like stadium expansion or construction?
How would you provide this protection? How would you ensure enforcement of any tree protection?
Yes, I support giving greater protection to large trees. That’s why I believe that the Port needs to preserve and protect large conifers as much as possible while still maintaining safety in flight zones around the airport, topping them instead of removing them.
8. TREE “CZAR” FOR CITY DEPARTMENTS
BACKGROUND: Currently trees and urban forest maintenance and protection is overseen by 8 different City departments, with frequently conflicting missions. The City Auditor in 2009 stated the “City’s current approach to trees lacks top leadership.” Unifying “all City Departments behind a single vision through clear and demonstrated leadership of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment” was recommended.
QUESTION: Would you support unifying tree and urban forest management under a single department or agency, so there is one decisionmaker and not a committee of 8 that rarely meets? What department or leader would you recommend, and how could this be achieved?
I believe that makes sense. For similar reasons, the Port has created the position of chief environmental officer to oversee and coordinate the Port’s many environmental efforts across departments.
9. FUNDING FOR PUBLIC TREE MAINTANANCE
BACKGROUND: Deferred maintenance results in the costly loss and replacement of trees and landscapes, and slope failures in critical areas are very expensive to repair.
QUESTION: Do you support the Port dedicating more funding for the maintenance of neglected Exceptional Trees and tree groves in public greenbelts and critical areas like wetlands and steep slopes on or adjacent to Port properties? If so, how would you address these goals?
Yes. Trees are critical to filtering and cleaning air and water in local communities, and larger trees not only have much greater ecological impact, they are part of local history and culture.
10 . INCREASE CANOPY COVER GOAL TO 40%
BACKGROUND: Seattle currently has a 28% canopy cover (according to a 2016 City study of trees 8 feet tall or higher). The Seattle’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan’s goal is a 30% canopy cover by 2037. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan targets a 40%, as recommended by the American Forestry Association.
QUESTION: Do you support raising Seattle’s 2037 canopy goal to 40%? If not, why and on what basis?
I believe the greater the percentage of urban tree canopies the better. However, this goal needs to be balanced with infilling urban areas as much as possible with multi-family housing to help minimize sprawl and the destruction of tree canopies across the greater region.
11. TREE CANOPY REPLACEMENT FUND
BACKGROUND: Currently there is no requirement during development for ‘no net loss of canopy’ for new or existing property development.
QUESTION: Would you support developers being required to replace either on-site or off-site, a canopy equivalent for trees removed, by either planting new trees or paying into a City Tree Fund to compensate for ecological value lost by the trees being removed?
This is an excellent policy proposal and one I wholeheartedly support. I would add though that the trees should be replaced as close as possible to the areas from which they are removed.
12. YOUR PERSONAL STORY OF A TREE
BACKGROUND: Trees and open space offer a number of community benefits: increased housing values, decreased rates of crime, offering protection against climate change, reducing air pollution that contributes to health problems like asthma, filtering and reducing storm water runoff, habitat for wildlife and quality of life for communities. Trees (especially older, larger, mature trees and forest canopy) are also likely the single most effective way to passively reduce carbon emissions at arguably no cost to the City.
QUESTION: Share with us your favorite tree or urban forest memory and why you support continued investment in trees as a community resource.
This is an excellent, yet very difficult question in that it is hard to focus on just one tree. Growing up in King County, I spent my free time and my vacations hiking the trails around Mount Rainier and the Olympic Peninsula with my scout troop, fishing in the waters of Lake Washington and Puget Sound with my dad, downhill and cross country skiing with friends at Apental, Ski Acres and Crystal Mountain, walking the family dogs under the thick tree canopies of Bridle Trails State Park, and splashing around in the Sammamish Slough at Marymoor Park. I was blessed to grow up in our beautiful region, and it instilled in me a strong environmental ethic at an early age.
My favorite book about a tree is “The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed” by John Vaillant. While it is a tragic story from a human and ecological standpoint, it is also a call to arms detailing how important trees are to the ecology, history, culture and people of the Pacific Northwest.
Since being elected to the Seattle Port Commission, I have been an advocate and a champion for protecting the natural beauty around us. I have pushed the Port of Seattle to do better in stewarding our region’s precious natural resources. I have worked collaboratively with my fellow commissioners and staff, Port tenants and other stakeholders to set clean air and water standards much higher than federal and state standards.
Please add any clarifications or comments you would like to convey to us regarding the questions above, or on protecting trees and the urban forest and open space in general.