Sound Off: Don’t fragment island’s habitat

  • Saturday, June 16, 2007 3:00pm
  • Opinion

Whidbey Environmental Action Network has appealed Oak Harbor’s attempt to expand its Urban Growth Area (UGA). Amazingly, the Island County Planning Department has determined that there will be no significant adverse environmental impacts from covering 105 acres of farmland with 352 houses and roads around a creek and in the headwaters of a coastal lagoon used by 10 percent of all bird species in Washington.

No significant adverse environmental impacts? No polluted runoff into the creek, the lagoon, and then Puget Sound? No rushing runoff from the roofs and pavement replacing soil that soaks up the rain? No disturbance to wildlife from the activities of a 1,000 people? Lets get serious.

And this expansion is only the start. Last year’s proposal to also turn the other 272 acres of the Fakkema farmland into a city is still very much alive and kicking. If and when that happens, there will be a nearly solid wall of urban development across North Whidbey, a barrier preventing wildlife movement and dispersal to South Whidbey. Conservation scientists call this habitat fragmentation. Fragmented populations of plants and animals are much more likely to go extinct, since neither their numbers or gene pools can be replenished by interaction with other populations.

And Oak Harbor doesn’t need to expand. In 2004 the city Planning Department conducted a “land capacity analysis,” a study of how much additional development could be absorbed over the next 20 years within the existing Urban Growth Area and with the proposed expansion. The conclusion was the existing UGA could hold 106 percent of Oak Harbor’s expected population in 2025. With the proposed expansion, the UGA would be large enough to hold 126 percent of the expected population.

But these figures greatly underestimate the capacity of the UGA. In making their study, the planners assumed that future development would be like the development that occurred from 1998 to 2004. But in the three years since then, development in Oak Harbor has been at much greater intensity than assumed in the study. There have been 24 large developments since then that together total over 1,200 new dwelling units. Developers, the market, and their customers are saying they want Oak Harbor to become a more dense urban area, rather than continue its historical pattern of spread out low density urban sprawl. And while actual development is speaking loud and clear, those governing the city don’t seem to be listening.

Cities don’t exist in isolation from their surroundings. The rural areas that surround cities supply them with essential and free environmental services, including clean air, water, and a place where people can go for respite from the urban activity that defines cities and makes them attractive. But when cities sprawl ever outward they not only consume the countryside, they become less desirable as places to live. And the urban services within the city become more expensive to provide.

Oak Harbor has a choice. It can grow up or it can grow out. And the decision the city makes will have effects far outside of the city proper. It will play a part in determining whether Puget Sound continues its steady polluted decline and whether wildlife populations on Central and South Whidbey are viable over the long run. It will determine if North Whidbey becomes one more sprawling ill-defined ‘urb that looks and feels like every other sprawling ill-defined ‘urb.

While WEAN’s legal challenge to the UGA expansion may protect the environment for now, the choice ultimately will be made by the people of Oak Harbor.

Steve Erickson of Langley is a co-founder of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network.

More in Opinion

My two cents: Change on council is opportunity to move forward together

First off, let me offer my formal and public congratulations to the… Continue reading

Dave Paul
Sound Off: Our ferry system is vital — and it needs reform

We need better ferry service. As you know, we’ve seen far too… Continue reading

Rockin’ A Hard Place: Squanto didn’t live on our Rock, but we felt his generous spirit

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, it’s comforting to fall back on that… Continue reading

In our opinion: Everyone should shop local for the holidays

Shopping local is always a good idea everywhere, but this year there… Continue reading

In our opinion: Plans to rebuild Windjammer windmill are overdue

Four years ago, Oak Harbor officials’ decision to raze the windmill in… Continue reading

Letter: City leaders should consider changing form of government

Oak Harbor Councilmember Tara Hizon was right on the money when she… Continue reading

My Two Cents: Worth more than the paper it’s written on

I have experienced a wonderful time here on the island. From being… Continue reading

Soundoff: Ferry delays are a dire emergency for Whidbey residents

By Island County Commissioner Melanie Bacon Whidbey Island is the largest island… Continue reading

In our opinion: Fleming, Bobis, Salerno are right for Langley council

The best candidates for Langley City Council are relatively easy to identify,… Continue reading

Rockin’ a Hard Place: How teaching on our Rock became a culture war zone

When I was in my senior year of high school several centuries… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Hoffmire, Mischo, Stucky are right for council

Election season has exposed a rift between Oak Harbor City Council and… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: School board incumbents need voters’ support

The schools need leaders who will work together and get things done, not argue over dogma.