Paved Road Not Needed | Letters

A letter to the editor not in support of the paving of Watmough Road

Tony Angell

As a writer, artist and property owner on Lopez Island for nearly forty years I have found the pace and proximity to nature there to be the restorative tonic needed in this fast paced age of crowded cities and polluted air.  It was with dismay then that I learned recently that the County Works Department was putting together plans to turn the gravel road out to the parking area for Whatmough Bite  into an impervious chip sealed surface road.   Never in all the years that I have come to stay and work at my studio here has the existing gravel road been anything but adequate in conveying people to and from their destinations including the visitors who seek the joys of discovery that await them in these natural areas available to the public.

This paved the road proposal has left me with a number of concerns and unanswered questions not the least of which would be why the change when the status quo seems perfectly fine to everyone I have commerce with on this part of our island?   It’s one thing to have Center Road down the middle of the Island to hasten progress, but why put paving on a country lane where one wishes to slowly meander and enjoy the woods and water views?   On further reflection there are even more vexing issues. Chip seal we learn has carcinogenic toxins in its composition that are released to the environment and I wonder about the runoff contaminating the local ground water, wetlands and nearby shoreline.  This non permeable surface means that there is no direct absorption of water and the runoff, in a heavy rainstorm, may well create a drainage and associated erosion problem.  Then too there is the question of public safety.  The gravel road has encouraged a leisurely pace of bicyclers and  walkers as slowly driven and easily heard cars were readily responded to.  What would an asphalt surface do to change those conditions I ask.

Apart from the above I regret that I’m left with the feeling that this proposed road has been set in motion with little  consideration of its impact on the unusually pristine natural ambience of this area.  It is a place that has remained so by both circumstance and a long history of public effort.  What will this intrusive application of asphalt/chip seal have both short and long term on the indigenous wildlife?  Will an increase in the speed and numbers of automobiles  here take a toll on the wildlife?  Has the protection of existing archeological sites in this immediate area been considered?

For more than thirty years I supervised the Washington State Environmental Education Programs through the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Working with students, educators, business and industry, we crafted an interdisciplinary curriculum that included information to assist youngsters in understanding how we not only use the resources of our environment, but have a responsibility to  restore and steward them as well.  Today, we are living with the knowledge that we simply can’t do one thing without compromising something else.  There are always tradeoffs that require consideration and this seems particularly important when it comes to decisions made affecting our lives here in Puget Sound in general and the San Juan Islands in particular.

I conclude with the hope that the County Council, in it’s wisdom, would suspend action on this proposal or at the very least put it aside until all of the questions and concerns related to it are more thoroughly explored and answered.


Tony Angell

Lopez Island