SEATTLE -- Seattle City Light, the National Park Service and the North Cascades Institute will break ground tomorrow, Sept. 16, on a new Environmental Learning Center that will provide matchless educational opportunities to thousands of children and adults each year.
“The center will be the doorway to a million-acre classroom,” said City Light Superintendent Gary Zarker. “This project symbolizes the work we’ve done to balance our needs as a growing community with the need to protect the environment. Clearly, the center’s message is that we must maintain that balance.”
City Light owns and operates three dams – Ross, Diablo and Gorge – on the Skagit River within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The Environmental Learning Center is part of a mitigation package associated with City Light’s federal license to operate the dams. Mitigation negotiations culminated in the signing of Settlement Agreements in 1991, and the dams were granted a new federal license in 1995.
City Light is financing the project with a total contribution of more than $21 million, including $12 million for site acquisition and construction, $4.2 million for operational support and about $4.5 million toward an endowment fund. The City of Seattle will advertise for contractors later this year. The facility is expected to open in 2002.
The center will be located on the shore of Diablo Lake, about 130 miles northeast of Seattle. Its 16 buildings will include staff and visitor accommodations, classrooms, science labs and an outdoor amphitheater. Hiking trails and outdoor learning areas will also be developed.
Seattle City Light will be owner of the facility. The North Cascades Institute, a 15-year-old organization that provides outdoor environmental education to 10,000 people a year, will operate the center and develop its educational programs.
North Cascades National Park will be responsible for water and sewer mains, water supply and trail maintenance and also provide support for the institute’s educational programs.
The partners in the Environmental Learning Center project are working closely with the architect, the Henry Klein Partnership of Mount Vernon, Wash., to design an environmentally responsible facility. The wood used in the project will be sustainably harvested. Plant materials gathered on site will be propagated and replanted, so all plants at the facility will be native to that specific location. An on-site recycling and composting center is planned, and power lines will be buried.
"City Light has a good record on the Skagit,” Zarker said. “The river continues to support a huge salmon population. The Environmental Learning Center is another important contribution to environmental protection and awareness.”
The groundbreaking and tree-planting ceremony will take place Saturday, Sept. 16, 11:30-3 p.m., 68 miles east of Interstate 5 on North Cascades Institute Highway at Diablo Dam, milepost 127.