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Earthworks Park the subject of ... earthwork

Construction is expected to continue until late September on a new dam at Mill Creek Earthworks Park, 742 E. Titus St. The park is closed during the project. - Steve Hunter/Reporter
Construction is expected to continue until late September on a new dam at Mill Creek Earthworks Park, 742 E. Titus St. The park is closed during the project.
— image credit: Steve Hunter/Reporter

Kent residents will have to wait until fall for Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park to reopen.

City officials closed the park to allow construction of a new flood-control dam at the park. The goal of the dam will be to control flooding of downtown streets during major storms.

The park, just east of downtown on East Titus Street, closed in mid-June and is expected to reopen when construction wraps up by the end of September, said Toby Hallock, city environmental engineer, speaking last Wednesday.

“We’re raising it about 2 feet,” Hallock said of the dam, which is composed of dirt, rocks and grass and runs the width of the park. “In the smaller storms it will not be that significant. But in the bigger storm events it will hold back more water.”

The Washington State Department of Ecology informed city officials two years ago that the dam’s spillway had to meet requirements for a 10,000-year storm event as opposed to a 100-year storm event. A storm event involves a heavy amount of rainfall.

A 100-year storm event statistically has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in any given year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site. A 10,000-year event has a 1 in 10,000 chance of occurring in any given year.

“The state tested the dam and found it was outdated and not up to speed,” Hallock said. “It was originally designed for a 100-year event.”

A controlled spillway will be added to run through the parking lot and back to Mill Creek.

“We’re not sure how much (of the city) it will protect, but less water will make it into the valley,” Hallock said. “We’ve been studying the flooding at James Street and this will help that.”

Pivetta Brothers, of Sumner, received the $790,000 contract from the city to build the bigger dam.

Trails and stairs at the park also need to be repaired. Hallock said wooden steps have been vandalized and used as firewood.

With the 2 1/2-acre earthworks portion of the 107-acre park designated in April as a historic landmark by the King County Landmarks Commission, the park is expected to be able to apply for more grants to fund future projects. The Kent Arts Commission nominated the Earthworks to be an historic landmark.

The landmarks commission found the property to be of exceptional significance because of the natural artwork and waived its criteria that a landmark must be at least 40 years old. Earthworks Park was constructed in 1982.

Herbert Bayer, an internationally acclaimed modern artist, designed the distinctive park landscape.

According to the City of Kent’s Web site, which gives an overview of the park, “Bayer’s entire career was dedicated to integrating artistic concerns into the every day operations of society. With the Earthworks, he created a much-loved public park, a storm-water detention dam and a modernist masterpiece.”

Bayer, an Austrian who is considered a master of the Bauhaus art movement, died in 1985.

Without Bayer to consult, city officials worked with students from the University of Washington’s School of Landscape Architecture as well as several artists and architects to design the larger dam without changing the esoteric qualities of the park.

“The same issues we looked at 25 years ago were the same today with the (state) regulations adjusted,” said Cheryl dos Remédios, visual arts coordinator of the cultural programs division of the parks department. “We had to help restore the creek, detain storm water and make the park accessible.”

City officials also have worked with the landmarks commission on the design.

“I think it will look good,” said dos Remedios, a city representative on the Kent Arts Commission. “I feel very confident the plan will be well-executed.”

Work also will be done on the large outlet at the park to handle more storm water and help keep a major storm from flooding parts of downtown. A rebuilt catch basin for the water will include a new viewing platform.

The city of Kent celebrated the 25th anniversary of the park last September.

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