Conservation projects vie for funds

Robert Voigt, Oak Harbor senior planner, stands on property the city hopes to acquire as a trailhead for its Waterfront Trail. The city has applied to Island County for partial funding. - Nathan Whalen
Robert Voigt, Oak Harbor senior planner, stands on property the city hopes to acquire as a trailhead for its Waterfront Trail. The city has applied to Island County for partial funding.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen

A process is under way to decide which conservation projects in Island County get funded this year.

At stake are five projects, which is up from recent years, that have to go through a winnowing process that finishes with the final decision of the county commissioners, who control the Conservation Futures Fund.

In Oak Harbor, the city wants $210,000 to purchase marshland near Heller and Crosby Road, and land on Scenic Heights Road for a trailhead.

“The trailhead helps complete the Waterfront Trail and increases public access,” said Robert Voigt, senior planner for the city of Oak Harbor.

The city has requested $60,000 from the conservation program.

The city plans to put in trees, public restroom facilities and a limited number of parking spaces.

Voigt added that the trailhead is the higher priority of the two Oak Harbor projects because the property is currently on the market and the land is big enough to build one house.

“The things that make it a great trailhead site makes it a great residential site,” Voigt said.

The city has an eye toward the future in its desire to purchase marshland near Heller and Crosby roads. Preserving the marsh jibes with the city’s long-term plans to keep the wetland and put in several hiking trails and interpretive signing to promote passive recreation and education.

The city is asking for $150,000 from the conservation program to help purchase the 36 acres of wetland.

The marsh is adjacent to the city’s current Urban Growth Area. Voigt said the city wants the property to help guarantee open natural areas as the UGA expands in the next 40 to 50 years.

The county is considering funding three other projects on Camano Island this year.

Island County itself wants $125,000 to purchase 300 feet of beach property at Utsalady Bay to improve access.

The Friends of Camano Island Parks and the Whidbey Camano Land Trust want the conservation funds to help finance two projects this year.

They applied to receive $225,000 to buy and protect the 188-nest, Davis Slough heron rookery. According to the program application, the rookery is one of the largest in Washington state and would cost $510,000. The remainder of the money would be raised through private donations.

The project calls for a conservation easement to be purchased for the rookery and also to purchase the properties adjacent to the rookery to provide an adequate buffer.

A lower priority for the Camano groups is for Island County to purchase a conservation easement on 40 acres of beaver marsh on Kristoferson Creek on Camano Island.

The purchase would preserve wildlife habitat and educational opportunities, according to the application.

In the next couple of months the five proposals go through the approval process.

On Tuesday, the first meeting was held by the county’s technical advisory group to discuss the feasibility of each project.

“They try to keep public sentiment out of it and try to judge purely on a technical basis,” said Island County Parks Director Lee McFarland. A Camano Island meeting is set for April 1.

The technical committee’s recommendations are then forwarded to a citizen’s advisory group which will hold another two meeting to help gauge public sentiment of each project.

The advisory board sends its recommendations to the county commissioners who have final approval on how the Conservation Futures funds are spent.

The county receives approximately $440,000 annually in conservation funds through a tax of 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on homes. The fund now totals about $600,000.

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