James Packman Talks Interdisciplinary Skills and Water’s Role in Urban Environmental Planning to UW Class

Senior Hydrologist James Packman recently presented to “Planning as a Profession,” a senior-level urban planning class in the College of the Built Environment at the University of Washington. The nearly 30 students come from different majors and career trajectories—among them are future architects, landscape architects, city planners, urban designers, real estate professionals, construction managers, engineers, environmental scientists, and more.

James Packman, Senior Hydrologist

James Packman, Senior Hydrologist

James’ presentation, entitled “Environmental Skills, Water Resources, and Urban Planning,” gave a holistic view of environmental considerations in urban planning—from the skills and interests that lead a person to the profession and the different disciplines working in the industry to the laws and regulations that drive project design, permitting, and building and examples of water-focused planning. His overarching message focused on interdisciplinary skills, and he gave examples of Aspect projects where collaboration between disciplines was vital to address the environmental elements.

For example, the Waypoint Park project along Bellingham’s shoreline incorporated coastal geology, hydrogeology, stormwater management, civil and geotechnical engineering, landscape architecture, habitat restoration ecology, and more to reclaim a contaminated former industrial site to an urban waterfront park.

Waypoint Park Before and After Construction
City of Bellingham’s Waypoint Park incorporated many environmental planning steps to turn a former industrial site into an urban waterfront park.

James also introduced the practical side of business consulting, or how people and firms pursue and win public work, and walked students through the Request for Qualifications / Request for Proposals process. His key message for being on winning teams is that it requires networking in and outside of one’s discipline and forging relationships with public agency staff to learn their needs.

He ended by going over a homework assignment about the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist process and its key role in urban planning projects. The homework reinforced the variety of environmental disciplines—geology, hydrology, archeology, botany, wildlife biology, engineering, and more—along with professional skills—technical reading comprehension, writing, project management, public speaking, quantitative analysis, and more—that are needed to complete the checklist.

James will present to a new set of students when he returns to the class in Spring Quarter 2019.

What to Do When Your Office Moves: Plant 900 Trees

Taking advantage of a day out of the office during our Seattle office move, the Aspect Community Team (ACT) partnered with Stewardship Partners and Carnation Farms to help with their ongoing riparian restoration efforts along the Snoqualmie River. It was a sunny, beautiful October day, and the fall colors were rich throughout the valley. Eleven employees make the trek to Carnation and spent a few hours planting shrubs and trees including western red cedar, snowberry, salmonberry, and cottonwoods. We had help from four stewardship partner field crew who also placed cottonwood stakes among the trees and shrubs.

Aspect’s volunteer staff donated their day to plant over 900 trees along the Snoqualmie River to help Stewardship Partners and Carnation Farms.

Why Carnation Farms? A brief history:

In 1908, the first 360 acres of farmland were purchased, and Carnation Farms was created. Now the farm totals 818 acres and includes an 8-acre organic garden, educational programs, event space, hiking trails, and is bordered by a stretch of the Snoqualmie River. A byproduct of the agricultural growth in the region was the destruction of the natural riparian ecosystems along the river throughout the valley. Stewardship Partners has been working with Carnation Farms to restore the habitat along the Snoqualmie River as a component to their adopt-a-buffer program.

Why is riparian habitat restoration important?

Planting native trees and shrubs is the primary component of restoration and maintenance of healthy riparian ecosystems. As Stewardship Partners explains, the strips of native trees and shrubs provide cooling shade, control erosion and provide habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife species. Trees and shrubs actively absorb air pollution throughout their lifetime, storing carbon and fighting climate change.

What is the impact of a half-day of service?

In about 3-4 hours of diligent work we planted 960 shrubs, trees, and stakes across approximately 0.5 acres of riparian habitat along the Snoqualmie River. This effort would have taken at least a week without the ACT volunteers. Stewardship Partners will do some maintenance the area and in about a year we should be able to see if our efforts truly take root.

Previous and ongoing ACTivities and service projects:

Aspect has partnered with Stewardship Partners previously for the design and installation of the Carnation Elementary School raingarden. The raingarden installation is part of a greater 12,000 Rain Gardens effort, and Aspect is also in coordination for another volunteer raingarden project! Stewardship Partners has been a great organization to work with and Aspect is a proud supporter-- pro-bono technical design, education and consulting services, volunteer labor, and funding.

Aspect Staff Volunteers Design and Muscle for new Rain Gardens at Carnation Elementary School

Over this past summer, Aspect’s Owen Reese was invited by Stewardship Partners to provide pro bono design for a pair of rain gardens at Carnation Elementary School. The project is part of a long-standing partnership between the Snoqualmie Tribe and Stewardship Partners to plant and promote native species and educate communities on water quality protection. The goal of this demonstration project is to improve infiltration, replace non-native vegetation, and create wildlife habitat. The rain gardens will infiltrate runoff from approximately 6,500 square feet of the school’s roof.  

This fall, several Aspect staff, along with volunteers from Stewardship Partners and Carnation Elementary School, gave a Saturday to prepare the rain gardens for planting by shoveling dirt to create the final shape of the rain gardens and place 4 tons of river rock to line the conveyance channels. It was great fun and a good workout!

The school kids will be planting the rain gardens in a few weeks, incorporating native plants selected by the Snoqualmie Tribe as culturally significant.

Helping Bring Clean Water To Guatemala

In 1985 a US doctor and his wife traveled to the Northwest highland area of Guatemala, where they observed areas of extreme poverty and little infrastructure. Dr. Leeon Aller, MD and his wife Virginia soon decided to dedicate themselves to helping this region and in 1991 established Hands for Peacemaking Foundation (HFPF), based in Everett, Washington. Going strong in 2017, the Foundation provides infrastructure and other support services to over 250 villages in this mountainous area, where running water and electricity are the exception and having clean drinking water can be a daily struggle for villagers. 

For many years, Aspect has been supporting HFPF efforts to help some of the area villages solve water supply challenges and also provide geological assistance with the landslide-prone environment these mountain villages exist in.

 The Water Story of San Francisco JolomtaJ

Located 10 miles from the nearest town of Barillas, San Francisco Jolomtaj is home to 160 families and does not have electricity or running water.  For drinking water, the villagers have a choice -- they can build wooden boxes like that pictured below or walk to a spring to get and carry back water (this can mean a 4-5 hour round trip trek).

Existing wooden box water supply for the village

Villagers trekking back up the mountain with water from the spring

To help this situation, Aspect and others are funding construction of rooftop rainwater collection system for the community school and individual families—primarily widows and the elderly who struggle to get water for themselves. 

San Francisco villagers loading supplies to build the tank system

Family and finished water tank

HFPF partners with the villagers to build the water systems. These systems don’t replace the spring sources, but they do provide critical water emergency supply and are filtered to block contaminants. The work in San Francisco is currently ongoing, with additional collector and tank systems constructed as funding allows.  You can learn more about this project and other humanitarian projects by visiting the  Hands for Peacemaking Foundations website.

The Aspect Team Turns Out for Another Great Ride to Defeat ALS

Over the past several years, Aspect has proudly sponsored the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association’s fight to end ALS. Every summer, the Evergreen Chapter of ALS puts on the Ride to Defeat ALS -- a one-day team bike challenge to support this worthy cause. The Aspect team rode as part of "Lori's Crew"-- in support of Aspect alumni Lori Herman. Over 40 Aspect employees, family, and friends biked down the Snohomish County Centennial Trial to raise an eye-popping $25,000.

Learn more about the ALS Association.

Encouraging Young Scientists

For the second year, Aspect’s Senior Remediation Engineer, Adam Griffin, spoke to the AP Environmental Science class at Franklin Pierce High school in Tacoma. Adam told the students about the variety of ways he applies science and engineering every day in his professional life and said, “I left energized and encouraged by the next generation’s awareness.” Many of these students have already been accepted into college and are pursuing science and engineering fields. Way to go Adam and best wishes to the Franklin Pierce students! 

Duwamish Alive!

Last Saturday morning, a small fleet of kayaks gathered on the shore at Seattle’s Terminal 107 Park, slipped into the Duwamish River, and spread out in search of garbage. Aspect’s Mark Bruce and Steve Germiat were aboard two of them as part of the Duwamish Alive! biannual restoration and cleanup event.

Mark, Steve, and other volunteers plucked 286 pounds of litter and debris from the river itself. A total of over 400 volunteers on land at other sites along the river cleared blackberry, knotweed, nightshade, and other invasive weeds from 18,870 square feet of restoration area and planted 40 plants, including 12 trees.

The cleanup was led by the Duwamish Alive Coalition, a collaboration between local nonprofits, municipalities, and businesses within the Duwamish River Watershed that work to preserve and enhance its ecological health. This was the 10th anniversary of the Duwamish Alive! restoration events. Aspect staff have participated since 2012.

Celebrating Summer with Service

August 3, 2012.

Aspect again celebrated summer by combining our annual picnic/bbq with civic service. This year we sent volunteer crews out to two projects. Our beach crew worked with Puget Sound Restoration Fund sorting oysters growing on the organization’s Bainbridge Island community shellfish farm.

Our trail crew built a boardwalk at Heritage Park in Kingston to finish trail work we had first undertaken at our 2010 summer event.

With dogged perseverance under the midday sun, Aspect volunteers had the shellfish sorted and back in their grow bags well before the high tide came in to cover the farm area.

Meanwhile, the trail crew overcame creative differences in design to construct 50’ feet of 6-foot wide boardwalk over a streambed to replace a muddy section of the trail.

After successful completion of the projects, both groups convened in a backyard overlooking the Sound for a summer bbq of lobster, tri-tip, and (of course) fresh oysters.