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County takes Dugualla case to Task Force

Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke presented a strongly worded letter from Island County commissioners to the task force considering Skagit River chinook salmon habitat restoration Thursday. The message: Take Dugualla Bay off the assessment list.

As part of a program mandated by House Bill 1418, dikes and flood gates in areas such as Dugualla Bay would be removed in order to return them to their natural, non-diked state, thus flooding many acres of land now in pasture and agriculture. Most of the affected land is in Skagit County, but the task force has determined the east side of Whidbey Island is also historically a salmon habitat area.

In the letter, presented at the 1418 Task Force meeting Thursday in Burlington, the commissioners stated that they strongly objected to Dugualla Bay being included in an assessment of potential salmon habitat restoration areas, and they gave nine reasons for their position.

While the task force chairman, Ron Shultz, has assured the commissioners that being included on the assessment list does not mean the area will be on the restoration project list, the commissioners say being on the list is no less than the first step on the road to ruin, for area landowners, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station , and ultimately Island County itself.

The issues they listed were:

Substantial flooding of productive farm lands

Strong opposition from land owners

Flooding of Dike Road

Probable flooding of State Highway 20

Cause the Navy to replace their drainage system

Difficult to prevent flooding of the Navy runway

Creating wetlands would increase bird use, and endanger pilots and planes

Assessment comes at worst time with Base Realignment and Closure list looming

If NAS Whidbey were to close it would be devastating to the economy of Island County, with the loss of approximately $434.6 million in direct military funds to the county.

Bakke said the commissioners felt that other military bases might use the Dugualla Bay situation to further their efforts to stay off the BRAC list, to the detriment of Whidbey.

“It’s a very competitive, cutthroat business,” Bakke said of the fight to keep off the BRAC list. “The timing of this is terrible.”

There is a precedent for the commissioners’ concern about the incompatibility of wildfowl and jets.

Environmentalists won a major victory in North Carolina last month when a federal judge ordered the Navy to halt development of an outlying field, used for carrier touch-and-go landings. The judge cited a danger to both migratory birds in a nearby national wildlife refuge and Navy pilots.

If the dike on Dugualla Bay was breached, as much as 600 acres of lowland could be affected.

Ron Shultz, task force chairman, told the group that being on the assessment list doesn’t mean being on the project list, and that if the area is found to be a small contributor to the reclamation effort they could probably mitigate to keep it off the project list. Mitigation might take the form of substituting another area.

The commissioners noted in their letter to the task force that both local governments and the Navy are aware of the severe impacts that would take place in the event the dike was breached or modified in a manner to allow salt water to back up behind the dike, and that they have been working with the appropriate agencies to study Crescent Harbor and Maylor’s Marsh as alternative sites for salmon habitat restoration.

The task force also must look at public land first, and most of Dugualla is privately owned.

Bakke asked the group why they would spend scarce state funding to assess an area with so many issues.

Shultz responded by saying that the objective of the group was to make a strong, defensible scientific foundation.

“If science tells us Dugualla Bay is a small contributor, we would look elsewhere,” he said.

He agreed that the task force needed to work out timing that would not be detrimental to the BRAC process.

The task force agreed to put the matter on hold until after Shultz had talked with Whidbey base commander Capt. Stephen Black about when he had to have all pertinent base-related information submitted to the Department of Defense.

Neither Capt. Black, nor anyone on the Naval base, is allowed to comment on the BRAC process.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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