Fairgrounds to redefine term 'parking lot'


Christopher Dunagan
Bremerton Sun Staff

April 13, 2003

A grassy parking lot to be constructed this summer at Kitsap County Fairgrounds sounds almost too good to be true.


The so-called "courtyard parking" is designed to block nearly all stormwater runoff, cut in half summer watering of nearby ballfields, and reduce overall pollution.

Beyond that, the project will save the county more than half a million dollars.

The project comes under the heading of "low-impact development," a kind of back-to-nature approach that is stirring the imaginations of engineers throughout the country.

The courtyard parking, south of Fairgrounds Road, will be used primarily for overflow traffic at fairgrounds events, said project manager Dennis Oost.

The surface will be constructed of 1-inch-tall rings, all connected together. Rolled out in sections, they will look like short pipes sticking up. Grass will grow among the filled-in spaces.

But that's just the beginning. Beneath the surface are more plastic-pipe structures, each 4 inches tall. Stacked together up to 8 feet tall, the structures will store stormwater flowing off the surrounding pavement and nearby ballfields.

During dry periods, stored water will be pumped back out to irrigate the fields -- "literally recycling the water," Oost said.

Keeping the ballfields green currently takes about 4 million gallons of water a year, he said. By capturing rainwater and excess runoff, Oost predicts the consumption can be reduced to 2 million gallons.

Fertilizer that washes off the grassy fields during rains will go back on during watering.

"The irrigation water is already enriched," Oost said.

The greatest benefit of all may be to keep undesirable nutrients from reaching nearby Barker Creek, an important salmon stream.

The manufacturer of the system's components, Invisible Structures of Aurora, Colo., has been so impressed with the fairgrounds project that it agreed to help with installation.

With that help, Oost said, the project is expected to cost about $700,000 -- less than half the estimated $1.5 million for the originally proposed asphalt parking lot with a concrete drainage system.

Oost, a private landscape architect for 25 years, kept tabs on low-impact innovations long before he joined the county staff last year. His views about protecting the environment already have made an impression.

"I think we're in good hands with Dennis when it comes to stormwater," said Mary Bertrand, president of the Chums of Barker Creek and a longtime advocate for the stream.

Oost has been asked to present a paper on the fairgrounds project at a "green building" conference in August, where low-impact development will be a major focus.

Local, state and federal officials across the county are coming to realize that massive concrete stormwater systems rarely deliver on the promise of protecting water quality. In the Puget Sound region, where salmon streams are a concern, city and county officials are embracing low-impact ideas.

"Look at the Army Corps of Engineers," Oost said. "They were dam-builders and river-dikers, always trying to channelize water. Now, they know more than anyone what an error that was. Once you put water into pipes, it flows faster and with more energy. It really disrupts the natural system."

Principles of low-impact stormwater management include:

Minimizing runoff at the source by reducing impervious surfaces, such as roads, rooftops and parking lots.

Switching to new materials, such as flow-through pavements, grassy pavers and "green" roofs.

Diffusing stormwater to "rain gardens" and "grassy swales" rather than building larger diversion structures.


Want to know more?
For information about low-impact development, check these Web sites:

Invisible Structures, manufacturer of the fairgrounds system, www.invisiblestructures.com

Puget Sound projects: www.wa.gov/puget_sound. Click on "Natural Approaches to Stormwater Management."

 

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