Editor’s Column: It’s time for Whidbey Island to protect its rocks

Whidbey Islanders have worked extensively over the years to protect everything, whether it’s theirs or not, but they’ve entirely neglected rocks, which is a huge oversight.

Whidbey Islanders have worked extensively over the years to protect everything, whether it’s theirs or not, but they’ve entirely neglected rocks, which is a huge oversight.

If a fire ravages a forest you can plant a tiny seed and in 500 years there’s a huge redwood. But if you plant a pebble in 500 years you’ve still got a pebble. That’s why we need to start protecting our rocks — we can’t make any more of them.

Concern about our rocks has to start with Big Rock, which is Coupeville’s first resident. At one time it proudly towered over the prairie, providing an unparalleled view for daredevil picnickers. Today it’s sandwiched between some apartments and a closed coffee shop, but I can see its top from a window in our second floor offices across the street. It’s a concerning sight.

Big Rock in recent years has had excellent owners who have protected the rock despite the encroaching town. But what if the ownership changes? Maybe the next owner won’t like Big Rock. There’s no law saying he can’t hire prisoners from Oak Harbor to come down and whack away at it with sledgehammers until there’s nothing left but a huge pile of gravel.

Some people cut firewood to vent their frustrations, but with the increase in burn bans, the practice of whacking rocks is growing. I suspect our Tea Party Commissioner Emerson is venting her frustrations by whacking a rock or two because it’s the only thing she can still do on her own property without a permit. If so, we have to stop her before she cracks every rock in sight.

To begin with, Island County should apply for a $250,000 federal grant to inventory and map our rocks of significance. This will require satellite imagery and a Boy Scout Troop. The available money will also spark the creation of Friends of the Rocks, a group that will vie for grants and make holier-than-thou comments at public meetings on rock preservation.

Personally, I’ve seen some pretty significant rocks. There’s a big one in the Saratoga Woods, about half the size of Big Rock but still impressive. Our shorlines are lined with many big rocks. And I saw a nice one last week in Trillium Forest. A committee will have to come up with the official definition of a “signficant rock,” but for starters, I’d say it has to be too big for a pickup and big enough for kids to play on. These should be provided special protection.

After the extensive inventory and rock mapping, we’ll need rules against harming rocks or even moving rocks from their natural setting without a permit. Of course this will require several Rock Permit enforcers in the Planning Department, which will require a funding source, so each property should be assessed a Rock Protection Tax. And don’t tell me you don’t have any rocks. Dig down far enough and you’ll find the rock we all live on and share a responsibility in preserving — this really big rock we call Planet Earth.

After the Rock Tax … wait, I have to go now. Out my window I see Commissioner Emerson walking this way toting a sledgehammer, and I don’t think it’s Big Rock she’s after.

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