The Discovery Park parking lot by the West Point Treatment Plant, lighthouse and beach currently holds eight spaces accessible to those with a parking permit. Photo by Erika Sommer
The Discovery Park parking lot by the West Point Treatment Plant, lighthouse and beach currently holds eight spaces accessible to those with a parking permit. Photo by Erika Sommer
Avid Discovery Park goers know how difficult it is to find a parking space in the only parking lot by the West Point lighthouse and beach. It will only get tougher in the coming weeks as Seattle Parks and Recreation and the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant crack down on illegal parking in the area. This is part of a trial period to determine whether the city should spend money on a security gate known as the West Point security gate project to help mitigate illegal activity and parking in the park.

With just eight spaces available in the lot by the beach and lighthouse, people often resort to illegal parking. These permit-required spaces handed out at the Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center give first priority to the disabled, elderly and families with small children. However, there are so many violations there is often nowhere for them to park, according to Discovery Park manager Patti Petesch.

The reason for the lack of parking has its roots at the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, located inside Discovery Park, and the need to protect both the plant and park. The plant serves approximately 1.5 million residents in Seattle and the surrounding areas, according to King County, and is a vital facility for protecting public health and the environment. From 1991 to 1995, the treatment plant was expanded and renovated and the area around the plant was restored.

According to Annie Kolb-Nelson, a communications specialist at the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, the project included building trails, restoring beach areas and working with the City of Seattle and Seattle Parks and Recreation to provide access to the beach area.


Constant blocked access

However, increased access to the park inevitably causes humans to leave a footprint, which has caused some problems. There have been many reported instances of illegal and unsavory activity in the park during the day and at night. According to Monica van der Vieren, who works in community relations at King County Wastewater Treatment Division, emergency access for both the public beach and the plant are often blocked by cars parked in the fire lanes during the day.

At night, incidents of vandalism on the beach, parties, gunfire, fireworks and people throwing fireworks inside the treatment plant have occurred, according to the incident reports listed on the King County website (

“It is a beautiful area, and we know that it is appreciated very much by the community members, and we want to be able to maintain it and preserve it for people to enjoy,” Kolb-Nelson said. “It is unfortunate that just a few people come down and take part in these activities. It spoils the park for everyone.”

Petesch said parking has become a mess because people have disregarded the rules. They park in the fire lane, in front of the treatment plant and in the turnaround area, where big trucks need to remove products from the sewage plant daily.

“It’s been a constant issue for over 15 years, and for the last 15 years, it has been an unworkable situation, as far as parking,” Petesch said. “We as Parks and Recreation have tried constantly over the years to educate folks, but there seems to be this entitled attitude that they are going to do it anyways.”


More enforcement

Kolb-Nelson said that in the coming weeks, Wastewater Management will aggressively enforce some of the parking zones around the treatment plant, especially any that could block emergency vehicle access. The enforcement comes as an alternative to the proposed West Point security gate project, which is the building of a security gate.

In August 2013, the King County Wastewater Treatment Division and the city’s Parks and Recreation collaborated on a proposal to build a security gate, while also working to preserve beach access for people with limited mobility. The community wanted the two government entities to first establish a trial period in which they would more aggressively enforce the parking rules. The trial period will assess whether a gate is actually necessary.

Kolb-Nelson said they also put up more visible signage regarding the permit system and towing. Officials have hired off-duty police officers for safety and parking enforcement and are documenting all incidents that require emergency personnel.

Van der Vieren said they had an information session last June with the public, and they wanted to follow through with that commitment of stricter enforcement. She said they will more heavily enforce towing, starting with cars parked illegally in the emergency lanes only.

“The bottom line is that West Point Treatment Plant is a major, essential public facility, and it is vital to protect public health and the environment, so maintaining the security around that facility is really a priority,” Kolb-Nelson said.

Project manager Michael Popiwny will be at the Friends of Discovery Park’s annual meeting on Saturday, March 14, starting at 10 a.m., at the Discovery Park Visitors Center (3801 Discovery Park Blvd.). He will discuss the progress of the trial period to determine if the city will follow through with the security gate project.

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