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Hoypus yes, Boyer no, advisors say

Two citizens groups are strongly opposed to using government money earmarked for conservation to purchase 17 acres of commercially-zoned land underneath the path of Navy jets.

At the same time, both groups — and at least 46 citizens — unanimously recommended that Island County commissioners use the funds to purchase the development rights for 57 acres of pristine forest and waterfront land adjacent to Deception Pass State Park.

“This represents, essentially, an irreplaceable opportunity,” Steve Erickson, member of Whidbey Environmental Action Network, said at the Citizen Advisory Board meeting Tuesday. He was one of eight residents who spoke in favor of the land near Deception Pass, known at the Hoypus Hill property.

“It’s a really good use of the dollars of the program,” he added.

On the other hand, no citizens spoke in favor of the city of Oak Harbor’s application for funds to purchase the “Boyer land” on the north end of the city, while three people spoke against it.

“We didn’t feel it had any conservation value,” said Mark Sheehan, a member of the county’s Technical Advisory Group.

But the groups’ position doesn’t necessarily put an end to local officials’ plans for purchase of the Boyer property on the north end of Oak Harbor. The property is within the accident potential zone off the end of runways. Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen, Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell and others are worried that development on the property will encroach or intrude on Navy airspace.

McDowell said the commissioners are not bound to follow the recommendations from the citizen groups, pointing out that they haven’t always followed their advice in the past.

“The commissioners are pretty independent,” he said.

In fact, some former and current members of the two citizen groups — the Citizen Advisory Board and the Technical Advisory Group — were upset because they felt that the commissioners didn’t take their recommendations seriously. The two groups are charged with analyzing applications to the Conservation Futures Program, which is meant to conserve open space, wetlands, habitat areas, farms and timber lands for the public use. The money comes from a 6.25 cent tax on each $1,000 of assessed value.

Both groups unanimously voted to recommend the purchase of the Hoypus Hill property and unanimously voted in opposition to the Boyer property application.

County Parks Superintendent Terri Arnold said she received 46 citizens comments in favor of the Hoypus Hill application, but none in favor of the Boyer application.

To prevent development on the Boyer property, the city of Oak Harbor can also apply to a newly-earmarked state fund to purchase the land, though state money can only pay for a third of the cost.

In addition, the city may also be able to get some federal pork dollars. Thanks in part to Rep. Rick Larsen, the House passed a defense bill last week that includes $20 million to prevent encroachment around military bases. The budget request specifically encourages Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to apply for funding.

McDowell said the commissioners’ decision on whether to purchase the Hoypus Hill property will likely depend on whether a fair deal can be worked out with the property owners. An appraisal of the property is in the works.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust submitted the application for the Hoypus Hill property. Land Trust Director Patricia Powell presented the application to the advisory board members Tuesday night.

Powell said the property on the eastern edge of the park boundary is mainly transitional forest, along with a 50-foot waterfront parcel. The property will complete loop trails for equestrian, bikers and hikers and add protection to adjacent old-growth forest.

Although a deal hasn’t been finalized with the landowners, Powell requested $790,000 in Conservation Futures funding. State Parks has agreed to kick in $220,000.

Under the agreement, State Parks will own the property and be responsible for maintenance, while the county will hold the conservation easement.

“This is a natural extension of the existing park,” she said, adding that it is good habitat for a wide variety of species.

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