Letters to the Editor

Stop Oak Harbor’s march to the sea

The city of Oak Harbor has renewed its expensive efforts to annex 180 acres in the Swan Lake watershed. The proposal includes 105 acres known as the Fakkema Farm, with a second annexation to follow.

It’s important for city residents to know the original annexation attempt was rejected by Island County. Next came an appeal to the Western Washington Growth Management Board; the board sided with the county’s decision on all 16 points brought forward by the city.

Island County, local county residents, and Whidbey Audubon Society all oppose the move. The city’s own study shows the annexation isn’t necessary to handle projected growth. This sprawl simply isn’t needed. By annexing this land, Oak Harbor will, in a lament overheard from a county resident, “complete its march to the sea.” Having the city straddling the island at this point would choke off any north/south wildlife corridor.

What else is at stake? Large numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors make use of the Swan Lake watershed (species sighted there are one seventh of the total species found in the United States.). For that reason, Island County has given it the designation of Habitat of Local Importance. Cutting down nearby forests and paving farmlands to build hundreds of houses would negatively impact this coastal estuary; increased sediment and pollution from excess development would change its character forever.

Swan Lake is connected to the Strait of Juan de Fuca via tide gates, and the abutting saltwater is part of the newly-created Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve. The reserve harbors a myriad of wildlife species and the islands themselves are part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Anything damaging the integrity of the lake has the potential of harming the Aquatic Reserve and the life it supports.

Whidbey Audubon Society calls on all stake holders to take a fresh look at this annexation appeal. For instance, coastal estuaries such as Swan Lake are havens for young salmon fresh from the Skagit River. Salmon fishermen need to recognize the importance of these rearing areas and lobby for their protection.

The potential loss of any farmland is a blow to the much-loved rural character of our island. Farming contributes to our local economy and helps preserve open space, but each farm lost pressures other farmers toward development.

There is an alternative. Whidbey Audubon Society placed Swan Lake on the recently-published Puget Loop Birding Trail Map. This site, along with Penn Cove, Fort Ebey State Park and others, can bring tourist dollars to Oak Harbor, especially during the prime birding season of fall through spring.

I encourage city business owners in the hospitality industry to seriously consider the possibilities. Many municipalities would love to have such amenities on their doorsteps! Swan Lake and the Aquatic Reserve are jewels that Oak Harbor should promote and protect, not overwhelm and degrade.

Steve Ellis
President, Whidbey Audubon Society


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