Editorial: Environmental group needed

As Oak Harbor continues its rapid growth, there’s one thing lacking: A unified voice of concern from people who love Whidbey Island and want to keep it nice and, whenever possible, make it nicer than it already is.

There’s nothing wrong with Oak Harbor’s growth on the face of it. As the island’s largest city with its most complete infrastructure, it’s supposed to absorb much of the county’s growth. The state Growth Management Act’s goal is to funnel growth into areas equipped to handle it, while sparing rural areas from becoming despoiled.

Oak Harbor city leaders have taken this goal to heart, approving building permits for hundreds of new homes and welcoming to town whatever commercial venture wants to locate here. Last year the city bought another 30 million gallons of water annually from Anacortes to help the growth continue.

But is growth getting out of hand? One wonders how much growth is necessary to meet the needs of expanding families, Navy transfers, and people who visit and decide they want to move here, and how much is manufactured. If Oak Harbor’s goal is to house everyone in the U.S. who wants to move to a nicer location with comparatively low home prices, then there’s no end in sight. Thanks to the real estate Web sites, our little corner of the world is not a secret any longer.

A few voices have been raised in alarm that the city now has its sights set southward for commercial highway expansion, as the easy acreage to the north has all been developed. With water and sewer soon accessible to the south, the only thing stopping a 33-acre shopping center boasting, perhaps, a Fred Meyer or Costco, is the urban growth boundary. That will have to be expanded, with city and county approval, for the project to proceed.

All of this is happening with little substantive public debate. Individuals sometimes attend a Planning Commission meeting or write a letter to the newspaper expressing concern about a particular project, but there’s no unified voice.

North Whidbey needs a group of good citizens to monitor growth in and around Oak Harbor, make sure it’s handled responsibly and assure that it doesn’t jeopardize the island’s future as a family-friendly place with lots of open space, public parks, beaches and roads that are not overrun. Everyone wants that, so it would hardly be a controversial organization. Most citizens, in fact, would take comfort in knowing that such an organization finally exists.

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