When Seattle was planning its first extreme-green makeover of a city block, residents competed for the honor. And in 1999, the winning street in Broadview got a facelift complete with new sidewalks and verdant roadside rain gardens with shrubs and grasses.
But when the city recently tried going green in Ballard, homeowners there felt like they got stuck with the booby prize.
The rain gardens installed by the city last summer and fall haven’t worked as planned.
Instead of solving problems, they have created new ones.
The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk, fill with water – and stay filled. Some of the rain gardens drain over the course of hours or days, but some become miniponds until the city comes to pump them out.
Now the financially pressed city will have to spend $500,000 to fix the rain gardens. And after the fixes, the gardens will do less of what they were designed to do: keep runoff from sewers to prevent overflows.
Many of the residents are not pleased. They worry that the swamped gardens are a drowning hazard for young children, a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a flaw that will lower property values. There’s even a neighborhood blog calling for their removal.
“We feel badly,” said Nancy Ahern, deputy director for utility-systems management for Seattle Public Utilities, the department that installed the rain gardens. “It’s been hard on this community.”
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