Letters to the Editor

Development: SPU threatens flower, forest

Seattle Pacific University (SPU) is proposing what may be the most environmentally damaging development in Island County in over a decade. The proposed development would create urban density in an ancient forest of statewide significance and be financed by selling for development land that has one of the rarest plants in the world. Here's what SPU is proposing for Camp Casey:

1. Increasing the housing at Camp Casey from 670 to 1030 "beds" initially. SPU's Master Plan leaves the door open for a further increase to over 1,500 "beds.”

2. Providing water for this urban resort through desalinization plants, unless Coupeville starts importing icebergs from Antarctica and agrees to sell them to SPU.

3. Placing nearly all of the development in unlogged ancient forest of statewide significance. Ninety-five percent of the new housing (342 "beds") will be in the ancient forest just north of the already developed area (the parade ground). The Washington Natural Heritage Program, Dept. of Natural Resources, considers this rare example of never logged low elevation coastal forest a "High-Quality Terrestrial Ecosystem" and it is on the state list of Natural Heritage sites. There are scattered trees 350 years old and up to 5 feet diameter, but most are mere saplings 100 to 130 years old. The soil is only 30 inches deep over cemented till, causing the trees' roots to grow horizontally. The interwoven web of roots anchors the trees against the fierce coastal winds. When the web is ripped by removing any of the trees, blowdown spreads outwards from the new opening. The forest is more than just the individual trees.

4.. SPU has stated that it will finance the development by selling for development the northern 30 acres of its property. This area includes not only part of the heritage forest, but also the Bocker Environmental Reserve where the globally endangered Golden Paintbrush grows. There are only 10 other sites in the world where this native wildflower still exists.

The "Special Review District" zoning designation sought by SPU is "used to establish special standards to protect lands and structures that have historical, archaeological or environmental significance" and "the proposed uses may be approved only upon determining that features of historical, archaeological or environmental significance will be enhanced, conserved or highlighted." This legal requirement of Island County's zoning code is violated by the failure to protect the Golden Paintbrush and the proposed destruction of the heritage forest.

Due to Whidbey Environmental Action Network's growth management litigation, Island County has been required to designate the heritage forest as a “wildlife habitat conservation critical area,” but county Planning Director Phil Bakke has decided that the development will have no significant adverse environmental impacts.

The county commissioners will hold a meeting this Monday morning at 10:30. We've been told that they don't intend to allow the public to speak before approving SPU's development proposal. However, at 10:00 that morning members of the public will have 2 minutes each to raise their concerns. If you can't be there on Monday, you can phone the commissioner's at 679-7300 or (360) 321-5111 on Monday morning. Better yet, send an e-mail to bicc@co.island.wa.us.

If urban development in ancient forest isn't your idea of environmentally sensitive smart growth, speak up now, ‘cause they ain't making any more forests like the heritage forest in our lifetimes — or our childrens.

Steve Erickson

Whidbey Environmental

Action Network

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