Local Habitat Destruction - Chance to Take Action.

JayB

Active Member
Whenever the topic of declining salmon and steelhead runs comes up, so does habitat destruction. Sometimes this takes the form of large, highly visible and well publicized threats like hydro dams, but most of the projects that take a toll on local streams and rivers are almost invisible unless you happen to live near them.

The impacts can often be subtle, like seemingly minor changes in rainwater infiltration after a development is built, but taken together these small changes can often completely degrade what was once viable habitat for salmon.

Most of the time there's nothing anyone can do to stop them, or even force the developers to mitigate their impact, because the amount of time, money, and expertise you need to challenge them are simply too hard to muster.

This is a case where things can potentially be different. The SnoKing Watershed Alliance is raising funds to appeal the approval of a development that will "create" the land necessary to construct a high-density residential development by clearcutting a ravine with one of the last remaining stands of mature second growth forest in the North Creek drainage in Southern Snohomish County, and then filling it with hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of cubic yards of fill. I'm not dogmatically opposed to development or density, but there are ways to achieve both with much lower environmental impact than this.

If the environmental value of this particular piece of land -that the SKWA outlines below - isn't enough reason to help oppose this development - there's also the precedent that it will set. Who knows how many formerly "unbuildable" parcels containing steep, heavily forested ravines that provide a catchment and a buffer for local streams and rivers that were formerly safe from development will be clear-cut and filled in if this development goes through.

Evidently this sort of project pencils out these days, so the only thing stopping this development and others like it is holding the county's feet to the fire and demanding they follow their own rules. If you think the county will necessarily always do that on it's own, consider the case of Frognal Estates near Picnic Point. The county issued the permits to clearcut this steep parcel of land adjacent to the creek that empties out at Picnic Point, only to discover later in the permitting process that the wastewater system that the builder proposed to service the homes was unbuildable. The homes may never be built, but the land has been cleared, and the trees are gone, but the impact of that botched permitting process could last for decades.

I don't want to dramatize this too much or overstate the impact of this one project, but if you've ever found yourself watching the incremental destruction of some of the key habitat that sustains our streams and rivers, and either felt like there was nothing you could do, or wished that there was a way you could contribute to an organization that was opposing it - here's a chance to convert those feelings into action.

Opposing this development is a financial stretch for the SKWA, and much of the technical expertise is being donated pro-bono, so every contribution helps. The goal is to raise $10,000 to file and sustain appeal before the county, and the deadline to raise the funds to do so is July 31st. Even if you can only kick in a few dollars, that'll make a difference. If you can't contribute but still want to help, consider sharing the link from the SKWA and helping get the word out.

Thanks!


"Ironwood is a proposed development of 88 single-family residencies on a Type 2 wetland that has been declared a Priority Habitat by WDFW. This wetland is critical habitat for birds like woodpeckers and owls. This wetland has several large second-growth trees that provide valuable habitat. It is also a large area for storm and surface water catchment that feeds into North Creek. North Creek is part of the Lake Washington watershed, and provides spawning habitat for runs of king, coho, and sockeye salmon.
We are appealing the project because:

– The land contains Priority Habitat Species and is classified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as a sensitive area.
– The builder is planning to fill a steep ravine and has not received approval for the sewer system from the local water agency AWWD. (See what happened to another similar development in Edmonds that was clear cut and now can not be built: https://www.heraldnet.com/news/frognal-property-up-for-auction-over-debt-developer-says-no/)
– The development is too dense for an already crowded area with heavy traffic congestion.
– The builder has applied for numerous exemptions that will allow them to minimize the cost of installing required landscaping and space between houses so they can maximize their profit.

The project designer is Merle Ash’s firm, Land Technologies, who also designed the stalled and failed Frognal development. Despite Land Technologies recent failure, Snohomish County has once again approved Mr. Ash’s permit for early clearing at Ironwood. Mr. Ash also sits on the County’s Planning Commission and is a big donor to many County Council members.

Ironwood proposes to clear-cut most of the forested site, place 100,000 cubic yards of fill in a ravine that was formally the main channel for Martha Lake Creek, before the creek’s flow was diverted in the 1940’s from North Creek to Swamp Creek. The applicant proposes to construct 88-lots, some as small as 3,600-sf, in an area zoned for R-7,200, making stormwater infiltration infeasible because of the higher housing density. This project will decrease summer base flows in North Creek resulting in higher temperatures and lower oxygen levels that will be harmful to aquatic life.

Please help SKWC appeal this clear-cut and filling of a valuable wetland. Don’t let Snohomish County get away with another Frognal. Any amount you can contribute goes straight to fighting this project. Please share on all media platforms and THANK YOU!"

 
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Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
If you don't like Clear cutting don't go into the woods on the head waters of a few low land creeks. One summer day I followed Pilchuck Creek up to where Bear creek runs. I used to enjoy fishing where no one else goes. I came around a bend in the stream and saw what loggers do out in the sticks.

There were trees cut down right to the banks of the creek. I always thought there was supposed to be a buffer zone that stopped that much cutting. There were trees laying across the creek that were cut down. I just turned around and hiked back out. Discussed to say the least. This was about 50 years ago.
 

dustinchromers

Active Member
If you don't like Clear cutting don't go into the woods on the head waters of a few low land creeks. One summer day I followed Pilchuck Creek up to where Bear creek runs. I used to enjoy fishing where no one else goes. I came around a bend in the stream and saw what loggers do out in the sticks.

There were trees cut down right to the banks of the creek. I always thought there was supposed to be a buffer zone that stopped that much cutting. There were trees laying across the creek that were cut down. I just turned around and hiked back out. Discussed to say the least. This was about 50 years ago.

There were some brutal logging practices we are still feeling the massive results of. Washington Forest Practice Law has changed much. Is it perfect? No, but it is improved. Oregon forest protections are way more non existent. The following are some very oversimplified rules. Again these are over simplified and diluted down for purposes of discussion.

S streams or shoreline of the state - Typically named streams with fish. These are the types of streams you would fish in. 100'+ continuous buffer full length.

F streams or fish bearing waters large and small - same as S streams.

NP non fish but perennial flow - a complicated rule set but simplified comes down to 50' buffer for roughly half the length ensuring that the bottom 500' of stream length is protected. Source of flow and stream jct with other perennial streams also get 56' radius circle.

NS non fish seasonal - no protections mandated however inner gorges and unstable features must not be logged in. You also may not drive equipment in any above streams but may cross NS streams disturbing at most 10% of length. Equipment is typically not allowed within 30' of stream edge dry or not.

Unstable Slopes or potentially unstable Slopes - Again a fairly complicated evaluation process and no logging in these "rule identified features" is allowed without an approval of a special forest practices filing. This filing includes the blessing of a geotechnical firm or other qualified expert and a SEPA.

Again the above is not exact nor complete. I only wish to provide a small flavor for what the protections are for education and awareness. All cutting must be approved by the DNR using the permitting process. I hope the above gives folks an idea of how the rules work and what is entailed in harvesting and why certain things are left while others cut. There are many additional rules, I have only noted the ones concerning streams and unstable slopes. Also note state and federal land have their own set of rules which are vastly different. Other exceptions are private companies that have gone through a process to adopt their own HCP or habitat conservation plan.
 

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
At one time you used to be able to drive up in most of these Watersheds. But when people started dumping garbage in them that gated them all off. I've driven up on Deer Creek, that is one wasted area. I just wondered that with it gated off if it ever repaired itself in the last 40 years. I couldn't believe that they scalped that area that bad.

I drove up one road that was to small for the car I was driving at the time. It started out wide enough but the farther I went the narrower it got. I did find a semi wide spot to turn around at. There was a locked gate there.

I've driven a few roads that ain't there anymore. Not gated up just overgrown. You leave thing alone and mother nature takes over big time.
 

JohnB

Active Member
It's funny(sad) how we have a thread about a meaningful action that can be taken to reduce habitat impacts that has 4 posts while we also have a thread about building a waterfront fishing lodge that has 7 pages of posts.
 
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Reactions: NRC

MGTom

Living at the place of many waters
WFF Supporter
As a land surveyor I did many subdivisions in/around town for housing. I also have done more than a bit of land surveying for habitat restoration to correct past errors. My local creek has undergone two decades of special rules and habitat restoration and is only now worth fishing again. The growth management act was supposed to limit impacts, along with the SEPA process. The problem is the way the rules work in practice is that unless you can prove with science at your expense that the proponents development is wrong, flawed, whatever, it will be approved if the appropriate boxes are checked. I've been on both sides and don't know what the proper solution is. I seem to find myself saying that alot lately. Be heard, but not obnoxious or likely you will get tuned out. Have valid, rational arguments, no feelings, and go to all the meetings and write letters if you wish to have an impact. Letters get read into the public record if requested. Usually there are more voices against than for at hearings, but like I said, if it's at planning they have a way to check the boxes to get it done.
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
It's funny(sad) how we have a thread about a meaningful action that can be taken to reduce habitat impacts that has 4 posts while we also have a thread about building a waterfront fishing lodge that has 7 pages of posts.

Your point is well taken. However, consider the context. This proposed action has already been approved by the governing Planning Dept. or Commission. The proposed action appears to be out of compliance with governing statutes, regulations, or policies or some combination of those. So the proposed action has been granted a variance or waiver to whatever rules govern this sort of thing. That means, in this case at the least, that the Planning Commission has taken a position favoring environmental degradation, rather than the environmental protection that is applicable under the governing rules. The relevant decision has already been made, and a citizen NGO is having to appeal the decision, even to the point of having to raise a considerable sum of money to appeal a decision that is contrary to what appear to be the applicable rules.

That is a very steep hill to climb, steeper than the ravine that is slated for filling. Planning commissions, while not invariably so, have the track record of never having seen a development proposal they didn't like. Consider that they approved the fatally flawed Frognal Estates. That's not surprising, given that their reason for existence is to plan more human development, not to keep the landscape in its original condition. Protecting this small piece of watershed will be very hard work, given that a lot of money has already probably been spent to get the proposal this far.

If I were involved, I'd contact County Executive Dave Somers. He started his career before politics as a fisheries habitat biologist. So I know at one time his heart was in the right place. I'd check to find out if this proposal is already greased to be a fait accompli before investing thousands of dollars on what may be a hopeless endeavor.
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
if it's at planning they have a way to check the boxes to get it done.

A lot of people are not aware that it's completely legal to destroy habitat if all the boxes are checked and hoops jumped through. There is no such thing as ironclad environmental protection. I guess that's a major part of what makes it so satisfying to achieve even a small environmental victory.
 

JayB

Active Member
After becoming involved in this process when the "Notice of Proposed Land Use Action" signs went up back in late January or thereabouts, what I've learned is consistent with MGTom and Salmo's commentary. I don't think it's an inherently unfair system, but it's not perfect either.

The burden of proof is on anyone who opposes a new development once the proposed land use action has been filed with the county. It's not enough to claim that the the facts and/or code are on their side. You've got to prove it. Proving it requires paying professional engineers, biologists, and attorneys to generate the evidence and present it on your behalf before the damage is done.

That's particularly challenging in some cases, because it's evidently possible, and quite common for a developer to file for *and* secure a permit authorizing them to complete the "Land Disturbing Activities" and "Forest Practice Activities" - e.g. clear-cut and bulldoze the land - before the rest of the permits necessary to complete the development have been approved. It's also a great way to demoralize anyone opposing your project because they're much less likely to be motivated to protect a forest that's no longer there.

Having said all of that, the fact that it takes so much effort, organization, and expertise to oppose *any* development that will have an adverse effect on local streams and rivers makes the case for kicking in a bit of cash to support the efforts to oppose this particular effort that much more compelling for a couple of reasons.

The first is that this particular effort been pre-vetted by people that know what they're doing. The SKWC is - by necessity - very particular about which projects they oppose, and only pick the handful where they believe there's a reasonable chance that they'll prevail simply because they don't have the budget and staff to oppose every ill-advised and unreasonably destructive development that gets permitted in the area.

The second is that everything you need to oppose this development as effectively as possible is basically being served up on a platter by other people who have done all of the legwork, and all you need to do to lend a hand is kick a little tip over to the waiter. The next time you see a development that's needlessly degrading a key watershed there probably won't be any organized opposition and there will - literally - be nothing that you can do to help stop it.
 

JayB

Active Member
Quick update: the SKWC and other groups have been able to fund an appeal and delay this development up to this point. As I said above, if it goes through it's only a matter of time before any previously unbuildable ravine in the county that can be profitably filled in and converted to a high-density subdivision will be.

If you want to register your opposition to this project during the public comment period, here's the Zoom link:


Dec 22, 2020 06:30 PM - 20-102399 Ironwood PSD/SPA/REZO/WMD Public Comment

Zoom Meeting link - https://zoom.us/j/92170607686?pwd=dkZrMkp0dnlqTjdYM1pzLzUrb1FIQT09

Meeting ID: 921 7060 7686

Passcode: 290884

If you want to help fund the Sno-King Watershed Council's opposition to this project, here's the link:

 

NRC

WFF Supporter
Quick update: the SKWC and other groups have been able to fund an appeal and delay this development up to this point. As I said above, if it goes through it's only a matter of time before any previously unbuildable ravine in the county that can be profitably filled in and converted to a high-density subdivision will be.

If you want to register your opposition to this project during the public comment period, here's the Zoom link:


Dec 22, 2020 06:30 PM - 20-102399 Ironwood PSD/SPA/REZO/WMD Public Comment

Zoom Meeting link - https://zoom.us/j/92170607686?pwd=dkZrMkp0dnlqTjdYM1pzLzUrb1FIQT09

Meeting ID: 921 7060 7686

Passcode: 290884

If you want to help fund the Sno-King Watershed Council's opposition to this project, here's the link:

Thank you for posting a link, I’ll put a reminder in my calendar. Probably worth giving this a bump day before or day of the zoom call for those like me with short memories.
 

JayB

Active Member
Thank you for posting a link, I’ll put a reminder in my calendar. Probably worth giving this a bump day before or day of the zoom call for those like me with short memories.
Will do.

If anyone feels motivated and/or has a conflict that'd prevent participating in the zoom call, they can submit a comment to the hearing examiner at the e-mail below. Just copy and paste this permit number in the subject line: IRONWOOD Permit No. 20‐102399‐PSD‐SPA‐REZO‐WMD

I think it's now at a point where you more or less have to confine your comments to matters that are pending in the appeals process, so the easiest thing to do would be to tell them you're writing in support of all of the motions proposed by the Sno-King Watershed Council per the instructions that they sent out in an e-mail.

"Please e-mail the Hearing Examiner [email protected] and County Council [email protected] and tell them:

1. Do not dismiss SKWC’s appeal based on a frivolous motion by Pacific Ridge.

2. Vacate Snohomish County’s SEPA threshold determination for the Ironwood project and remand the project back for corrections with County’s 2017 or most current Drainage Manual.

3. Require Pacific Ridge to prepare a Conceptual Wetland Buffer Mitigation Plan required under SCC 30.62A.150.

4. Revise the wetland rating forms to meet Ecology’s standards and protect wetland buffers.

5. Deny Pacific’s Ridge’s rezoning request to increase housing densities, thereby eliminating the possibility for Low Impact Development, Best Management Practices (LID/BMP’s) to address stormwater impacts to North Creek.

6. Require the County to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because of the size, scope, and harm from this project."


If I've said this before I should add that I'm not uncritically opposed to new development, but at a minimum I'd like to see the county take measures like re-zoning land that's already been cleared and/or developed in some fashion and increasing density near urban cores before they green-light the destruction of WFW priority habits encompassing one of the last stands of mature forest in a threatened watershed.
 

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