Multi-phase condo complex violating environmental rules, group alleges
SEAVIEW - In a letter from its attorney, a group of Seaview residents has asked Pacific County to issue a stop work order as well as require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) against controversial developer Matthew Doney and his Pacific Crest Development located off Willows Road.
The group, calling itself "Save Our Buttes," claims Pacific County is in violation of state law by allowing tree cutting and other development activity to go on during the environmental review process. The group is also asking the county to require that a more detailed environmental review, an Environmental Impact Statement, be prepared for this project.
Controversy has been no stranger to this project. Previously, the county "inadvertently failed" to perform a SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) review for the first phase of this project, and did the SEPA review only after neighborhood protest.
Next, Doney sought to have those permits changed after initiating a storm water facility in the wrong location in a federally protected wetland without government permits, according to the Seaview group.
To improve the views for the future development, Doney also asked Pacific County to amend his Phase 1 approval to allow him to cut down 28 mature trees in a wetland buffer he was required to protect. Pacific County granted this request without additional SEPA review.
"How can the public feel Pacific County is committed to protect the environment when they are allowing the developer to cut down trees and develop the project in the middle of the development review period?" asked the group's attorney John Karpinski. "That's why state law has a mandatory prohibition of development during SEPA review."
"It is hard to believe the county will take our comments seriously when they are allowing trees to be cut down before the end of the comment period," said Save Our Buttes member Tom Burns.
In a letter to Mike Stevens, Pacific County's SEPA official, Karpinski states he has never seen more SEPA errors in one document in his entire 20 years of practice.
"Pacific County has simply dropped the ball on this project," said Karpinski. "They allow trees to be cut down without proper environmental review. They allow buildings to be built within a few feet of a cliff. Construction on this project must stop, and it needs a comprehensive environmental review."
Stevens said he did not wish to comment on the action until he has some clear direction from Pacific County DCD director Brian Harrison. Harrison was not available for comment.
In a letter to Karpinski on June 11, Stevens stated "Pacific County will not issue any of the permits for phase 2 of the Pacific Crest Condominium project until all issues have been answered [or] resolved."
Doney did not have much to say on the matter, but on June 14, he said he continues to work on the project during the SEPA appeal, which may be an illegal action under WAC 197-11-070.
SEPA is short for the State Environmental Policy Act. The law requires development proposals and government actions be reviewed to identify potential impacts to the environment. This review serves two major purposes.
As a form of disclosure, its purpose is to make the decision-makers aware of the projects' impact on the environment and community. The process is a public one, whereby the county reviews the proposal, identifies its impacts, and makes a threshold determination. This determination is reviewed by other agencies with jurisdiction and made available to the public for review and comment.
The second purpose is more substantive. If through this review process it is found that the project will result in probable significant adverse environmental impacts, the county has the authority to require changes to the project to minimize or eliminate those impacts. While Pacific County has adopted a variety of codes to protect the environment and the community, SEPA provides a valuable "safety net" for impacts not anticipated by the adopted codes.
Unless an environmental impact statement is required to be prepared, the SEPA review usually adds little or no time to the permit review process. Often, the greatest delays are caused by insufficient environmental documentation submitted with the application.
Many construction activities which are minor and therefore not likely to have a significant environmental impact are exempt from SEPA review. These exemptions are specified in state law.