SOUNDOFF: Audubon says no to Keystone plans

Washington State Ferries wants to relocate the Keystone Ferry Terminal —So, what’s the problem?

Washington State Ferries (WSF) plans to standardize their fleet by replacing the 1927 Steel Electric boats with the larger Issaquah-type vessel. The new vessels are not compatible with the present Keystone Harbor, which was constructed in 1948 and has been maintained by human intervention.

If WSF abandons the harbor (in their language — allow the harbor to naturalize), a natural silting process will begin. Whidbey Audubon Society (WAS) views this terminal improvement project with concern since WAS sees economic and environmental problems beyond the abandonment of the harbor.

If the harbor is allowed to fill, drainage pipes from Crockett Lake which run under Highway 20 will be blocked and their will be no means to control the water levels in Crockett Lake. Currently, the water level in Crockett Lake is controlled through tide gates at the entrance of the drainage pipes. Any interruption of this sequence may flood Highway 20 as well as alter the habitat of Crockett Lake permanently.

Crockett Lake, which has been designated an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society, is a critically important migration staging area for 17 species of shorebirds, and for raptors such as peregrine falcons and merlin that follow the migration south. The lake also provides habitat for many other species; WAS has observed 213 species at the site. WAS strongly supports maintaining this important bird habitat.

Positioning the ferry terminal outside Keystone Harbor will also impact Keystone Spit. The south end of the spit was identified by a WSF engineering study as having the best “operability of alternatives in this analysis.” This site is referred to as Site 2 by WSF and is currently the location of Island County’s Driftwood Park. It has the Navy Rake Station, old pilings left from the historic Black Ball Ferry dock, lots of driftwood, a fairly steep shoreline covered with rock and is one of the best public bank salmon fishing spots on Whidbey Island.

What about the rest of the spit? Keystone Spit State Park takes up much of the area thanks to efforts of the Island County community and others to preserve it in a natural state. It remains that way today, even though history indicates that there were once six piers on it and there were other plans for its use until people said no to development.

Thus, Keystone, Crockett Lake and Whidbey Island are now destinations for birders and fishers from all over the United States and Canada. These sportsmen and women support our economy by spending money in our hotels, restaurants, shops and even the ferries. Keystone Spit is not just for the birds.

Whidbey Islanders are we willing to have larger ferries, more traffic and risk damage to prime birding and fishing habitats in a scenic area? Whidbey Audubon Society says no!

Brian Martin represents Whidbey Audubon Society.

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