The Weekly’s 2017 year in review | Part II

  • Fri Jan 12th, 2018 1:30am
  • News

#6 Agate beach parking expansion

Places to leave your vehicle while you explore Agate Beach or Iceberg Point on the south end of Lopez are few and far between. Visitors are often forced to park on private property or along the side of the road after the small parking area is filled.

“It has been determined for a number of years that there wasn’t enough parking at Agate Beach,” said Julie Thompson, a San Juan County planner. “It’s a little bit dangerous to get through.”

On July 13, the county hearing examiner reviewed the county’s permit to build additional parking and listened to public comments, ultimately approving the creation of nine parking spaces.

The road that currently runs past county park, MacKaye Harbor Road, is limited to one way traffic 200 feet prior to the park due to the potential of hazardous roadway erosion. The parking situation at Agate Beach is just one of the more immediate projects the county is considering in relation to the MacKaye Harbor Road vicinity.

“We’re doing it as a safety issue because right now the parking lot gets full and people park along the edge of the road,” Shannon Wilbur, senior projects engineer for San Juan County, told the Weekly in June. “It’s a narrow road anyway – now we do have it blocked off – so we have to get those cars off the road.”

An existing, on-site parking lot holds 12 to 15 cars, otherwise, drivers are forced to park on private property or along the side of the road. Adding parking to the park was one of three goals indicated in the MacKaye Harbor Road relocation feasibility study.

The feasibility study was finalized in late June with the county choosing to pursue the inland relocation concept.

“It’s a very long process, and so that is our recommended long-term solution; however, in the interim we need to be able to project the erosion and sea level road,” Wilbur told the Weekly in June, adding that the relocation of Cattle Point Road on San Juan Island took 15 years to complete from start to finish.

Though this interim solution will discourage cars from parking dangerously or on private property, not everyone is supportive of the plan.

“We have gotten some comments. People are not very excited about the idea,” said Thompson. “I think people are worried there will be tree removal.”

Thompson said that the new stalls were designed to not require removal of any trees.

Other residents have voiced concern over the safety of the parking given that the road has been closed to one-way. Wilbur said that there are four concepts suggested in the MacKaye Harbor Road Relocation feasibility study on how to handle the parking situation. The study suggestions will be long-term solutions to the parking traffic and will be decided over time while the proposed changes that the county will begin working on soon are interim measures.

# 7 Iceberg point dig proposal controversy

Future projects at Iceberg Point, like trail maintenance, can’t be completed on the protected land without an inventory of buried artifacts, but dredging the land could destroy native wildflowers.

In Fall 2016, a Central Washington University class was picked by Bureau of Land Management officials to dig at as many as 190 sites on Iceberg Point to locate remnants of local tribes. Items

The roughly 100-acre Iceberg Point has been flagged as an area of “environmental concern” under a Bureau of Land Management plan since 1990. Since 2013, it has also been part of the San Juan Islands National Monument, which protects the 1,000 acres in a similar way as national parks.

BLM officials, who manage Iceberg Point, have wanted to locate cultural artifacts since it acquired the land, said BLM Public Affairs Officer Jeff Clark. Federal laws state that this inventory must be completed before the implementation of future projects, like trail maintenance or plant restoration.

Iceberg Point was once a garden for native tribes, including the Samish. Leslie Eastwood, a spokesperson for the Samish Indian Nation, said they approve the BLM project to restore the area’s indigenous plants.

Invasive species, like dead camas, are driving out the edible camas, which was originally grown in the location, said Eastwood. The bulbs of this lily provided a healthier, pre-colonization diet for the Samish. Today, about 50 percent of the tribe has diabetes, she added.

Kwiaht Director Russel Barsh argues plants like these are tribal artifacts themselves and shouldn’t be destroyed in the search for other relics. To him, items underneath the meadows are already protected by the National Monument designation, so the inventory of possible items is unnecessary.

According to BLM documents, archeology professor Patrick McCutcheon will lead the dig with up to 25 students for about 15 days. Tents and equipment that comprise the field school would encompass a little less than the area’s 100 acres, but the digging site would encompass about 20 square meters or .005 percent. This would be “substantially unnoticeable,” according to the draft environmental review for the project.

Iceberg Point wildflowers like white-topped aster and California buttercup are listed as declining species under the federal government and Townsend’s vole is listed as declining for the state, explained the public comment document Kwiaht officials submitted to the BLM. Iceberg Point is the only location some species, like showy Jacob’s ladder, can be found in the county.

The project was postponed in June and the proposal is being reviewed under a Categorical Exclusion as part of the National Environmental Policy Act process. Part of the process is to review and analyze data in public comments and a large number of those will necessitate a longer review period than expected.

#8 Growlers: EIS extended and federal agencies step in

It was a busy year for the EA-81G Growlers stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

In January, Navy officials extended the comment period for the draft environmental impact statement by 30 days for the addition of 35 or 36 Growlers at NAS Whidbey Island after requests from elected officials and community members.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and state Gov. Jay Inslee also urged the Navy for the extension after hearing from constituents and others who struggled to provide feedback by the original deadline.

The National Park Service offered to acquire the Navy’s Outlying Field Coupeville landing field in Central Whidbey to protect the soundscape of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve from the aircraft.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior — which is the umbrella agency for the National Park Service — submitted comments this year on the Navy’s draft EIS.

The EPA rated the EIS as “environmental concerns with insufficient information,” according to the letter from R. David Allnutt, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Review and Assessment.

The draft EIS comment period was open for 105 days, closing on Feb. 24. More than 4,200 comments were made on the draft EIS.

While the draft EIS states that there are no conclusive links between Growler noise and health problems, the EPA offered a list of studies on health effects and wildlife impacts and urged the Navy to update the information in the final EIS. Similarly, the state Department of Health concluded in comments for the draft EIS that the evidence of health impacts of noise similar to Growlers is convincing.

The EPA and the state Department of Health recommended that the Navy conduct a health assessment on Whidbey residents affected by Growlers noise.

In February, a Washington State Department of Health report that analyzes existing studies contradicts the Navy’s claim that there is no link between military jet noise and health.

The state’s analysis points to the limitations of the existing evidence, but concludes that “the current body of scientific literature suggests that the noise levels similar to those reported from the NAS Whidbey Island Complex pose a threat to public health.”

In September, The Navy delayed its decision on aircraft practice on Whidbey Island while officials consider potential changes that may significantly reduce the number of flights necessary. The Navy announced that release of the final EIS, originally set to be released in autumn, was extended by 10 months.

#9 Keaton Farris’ guards charged with falsifying records

Two former Island County corrections deputies accused of forging jail records after the 2015 death of an inmate appeared in Island County Superior Court in April.

David Lind and Mark Moffitt pleaded not guilty to charges of making a false statement in an official report, a gross misdemeanor. The case moved from Island County to Whatcom County in July and is expected to go to trial in March 2018.

Lind and Moffitt are accused of changing jail log entries and lying about whether they had been checking in on Keaton Farris before he died in his cell from dehydration and malnutrition according to court documents.

Detective Ed Wallace discovered the deception after comparing the log entries to surveillance video, his report states.

Farris, 25, died of dehydration and malnutrition on April 7, 2015, in the jail in Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Corrections officers had shut off the water to his cell and failed to do routine checks on him. Farris had been in custody for nearly three weeks, bounced between jails in three counties. He was housed in Island County for about 12 days.

His total fluid intake there was at best 185 ounces of water — less than a quarter of the amount considered a minimum necessary for survival, according to an Island County sheriff’s detective. Farris also lost about 20 pounds.

Jail staff did not check on him as protocol required and did not note necessary information and observations.

A jail nurse wasn’t called to examine Farris until the day before he died and she only made cursory observation through the window of his cell. His death went unnoticed for hours.

Farris was charged with identity theft for forging a $355 check in San Juan County. He’d never been in serious trouble before. He was anxious about the case. He lost his phone and missed his court hearing. That day he went to an Edmonds hospital. He was arrested in Lynnwood on the $10,000 warrant. He had a prescription in his pocket for an anti-anxiety medication. He was never given any medication at the Island County Jail.

#10 Farm fish net pen failure

A net pen failure off the shore of Cypress Island dumped an unknown quantity of Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea on Aug. 20. The nearly 30-year-old fish farm, which was reportedly showing signs of damage the day before, held 305,000 salmon, according to the farm’s owner Cooke Aquaculture. The company purchased salmon farms located on Bainbridge Island, Cypress Island, Port Angeles and Hope Island a year ago.

In the days following the collapse, the Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency, fearing the impact that the invasive salmon could have on native salmon populations. Tribe leaders encouraged their fishers to catch as many Atlantic salmon that they could, but warned against eating them, unsure of the health risks.

Cooke Aquaculture blamed the damage done to the net pens on “exceptionally high tides and currents,” in relation to the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. However, preliminary tidal data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Friday Harbor station indicated that the high tide was no higher than it had been the weeks prior.

“It’s a totally unacceptable situation that was preventable, and I’m doing everything in my power to make sure it never happens again,” Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, said. “I will very likely be introducing legislation trying to address this in the future.”

Unrelated to the fish farm failure, in December, the Washington State Department of Ecology issued Cooke an $8,000 penalty for violating state law. Cooke was required to immediately stop allowing pressure washing wastewater to enter Puget Sound.

Also in December, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz terminated Cooke’s net pen operations off the shore of Port Angeles.

The Department of Natural Resources said it discovered that Cooke’s net pens were in an unauthorized area and that Cooke failed to maintain the facility in a safe condition and failed to replace unencapsulated flotation material in order to prevent styrofoam from disintegrating into the water.