Puget Soundkeeper is reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The Act pushes us to consider how far we’ve come, and how much further we must go to protect clean water. In that spirit, we’re amplifying Rose Foundation grantees whose passionate and dedicated work exemplifies the future of clean water. 

What Is the Rose Foundation? 

Soundkeeper’s legal settlement payments help fund the Rose Foundation, a granting organization that supports environmental projects. The Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation Fund has provided funding for dozens of restoration, education, and monitoring efforts around the Puget Sound. These projects bring us from rural to urban communities, from farms, to sidewalks, to kelp forests. They highlight the interconnectedness of clean water protection and remind us that our efforts to protect Puget Sound extend across the entire watershed in all its complexity. 

What is Mini Mart City Park?  

Mini Mart City Park is a place for the arts, education, environmental action, and community collaboration in the Duwamish Valley. MMCP will serve as an artist-designed, community-led space advocating for creativity and public health through art exhibits, residencies, environmental action, and local programming in the Lower Duwamish Valley for decades to come. John Sutton, Ben Beres, and Zac Culler of the artist group SuttonBeresCuller initiated MMCP in 2005.

Puget Soundkeeper Communications Manager Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone spoke with Ben Beres in early June, 2022. PSK followed up with architect Aimée O’Carroll via email. Their answers are edited for length and clarity.  

Photo of completed Mini Mart City Park building
The completed Mini Mart City Park building and pocket park

Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone: What is the origin story of this project? 

Ben Beres: It took us 15 years to get to the point we’re at now. We originally received a grant from Creative Capital for a project associated with the proposed monorail expansion in 2005. We were going to take the Sun Hill Mini Mart on 85th and 15th (now a T-Mobile store) and turn it into a park for the remaining six months of the building’s life. 

The monorail was voted down and we sat on the idea for a bit. We realized the idea could shift to a gas station. It seemed relatively easy to get our hands on a defunct gas station because there are so many of them. We were meeting with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle when we found the current site (6525 Ellis Ave. South, in Georgetown).  

The first round of testing revealed it was a “worse case-scenario” brownfield site. We had to shift focus and start learning about brownfields. These kinds of sites are all over the United States, mostly in low-income neighborhoods.  

Mini Mart City Park artist's rendering
Artist’s rendering of the park and building design

NLG: What kind of contamination did you find on the site?  

BB: The soil is pretty toxic, with gasoline contaminants starting about 16–20 feet down. That’s part of what makes it unusual: contamination is usually close to the surface. Sites like this are leaking petroleum into the groundwater. We tried to find someone who was liable, but we couldn’t. The Department of Ecology offered a few solutions, including digging up the dirt and shipping it to eastern Oregon where it could off-gas, and then refilling the site. That seemed really silly and would have cost about $2 million. Our environmental lawyer suggested we clean and build at the same time.  

NLG: What kind of remediation process are you using?  

BB: It’s called air sparging. Very simply, pipes exert pressurized air into the ground to inject oxygen which “wakes up” bacteria. These bacteria start the chemical process of breaking down contaminants. A pipe sucks up the chemical off-gassing. It’s a passive system. It works if you’re not in a rush.  

NLG: What about the off-gassing? Does that contribute to air pollution?  

BB: From what we understand, it’s equivalent to running an electric car in terms of what comes out of the pipe.  

NLG: And what comes out of the pipe?

BB: Typical petroleum hydrocarbon vapors that fall within gasoline range organics (GRO’s): Low outputs of Benzene, Toulene, and Xylenes.

NLG: Tell me about constructing the new building and the landscaping.  

BB: The original structure dates to the teens or 1920s. We excavated chunks of metal and pipes, only to find a cracked foundation. We wanted the structure to read as a gas station, and it’s mimicking the original.  

A lot of our funding went into the air sparging system, and into green stormwater infrastructure. We’re doing as much as we can to mitigate stormwater. We worked with folks from Dirt Corps on the landscaping.  

Historical photo of the original building on the MMCP site
Photo of the original structure in the 1930s

Aimée O’Carroll: The design of the building and its location on the site meant we were able to maintain as much open park space as possible, while creating a new courtyard space between the two indoor structures. Planting began early, with careful consideration of species that would adapt well to the site. Fencing supports green walls and creates screening. The green roof maximizes flat space on top of the building.

NLG: How does the site specifically manage stormwater?  

AO: Bioretention planters on the east side of the building capture the site’s stormwater. All paving is pervious on the site. We have a lot of planting areas to naturally mitigate water runoff, and the green roof also helps with stormwater runoff.  

NLG: How has your perspective changed over the last 15 years?  

BB: We heard “No,” a lot. We received lots of rejections as we tried to secure funding. We watched the neighborhood change, and we also witnessed people become more curious and supportive of the project. One of the benefits of doing something for so long is that we’re sure of what we’re doing. We’re building something that will outlive us. It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see what happens.