FORT COLUMBIA - Three items of vital importance to Pacific County residents were on a daylong Washington State Parks Commission agenda last Thursday - a proposed land exchange in Long Beach and the Cape Disappointment (formerly Fort Canby) State Park Master Plan.
The commission approved re-naming Fort Canby State Park during the meeting. The land exchange and the master plan were tabled by commissioners for more study and discussion at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Several members of the Concerned Coastal Citizens group, which was formed two years ago after a hard-fought battle over exchange of a parcel of land owned by Vancouver developer Paul Christensen, spoke out against the so-called Ocean View land exchange. The specific piece of property, adjacent to Ocean View Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center, is one of many so-called "piano keys" that Parks has been attempting to consolidate the length of the Peninsula.
Scott Smithhisler, speaking for CCC, said the group doesn't support the transfer because of zoning issues and the necessity for a comprehensive plan for the area. Smithhisler asked commissioners that their decision be delayed until those issues are resolved and that no similar transactions or proposals be considered until then. The commissioners "must have a plan so stakeholders can be part of the process and no one is blindsided," he said.
Smithhisler also commented that his group have the view that Parks is exempt from regulations that require environmental study of the property. "Our attorney built a compelling case to the contrary," he said. "From our standpoint, this is still important and is open to question. We feel you need to do that and get to the end as part of the planning process. It's critical that permanent conservation be tied to the deeds to the property. If it isn't, we won't support it."
Katherine O'Neil, also a CCC member, said she "called fouls on the commission and feels anger at the way we were treated at the Dec. 13, 2001, meeting to discuss of the piano keys. We were told none were to be disposed of. Now you say they are. We didn't know parks made a commitment until we read it in the paper. That's a hell of a way to treat citizen volunteers." She challenged the commission's statements regarding the difficulties involved in identifying the boundaries of the properties and suggested they "get a GPS, find them, then get a vision about the open space and beauty of the Peninsula."
CCC member Barbara Blowers of Port Townsend, who owns property on the Pennsula said she "resents Long Beach assuming that state and Parks properties are theirs to zone as their own open space." She said the real issue "isn't zoning of the property in the city, the question is if Parks wanted to exchange property could they? How would it be zoned? Now it's zoned shoreline conservancy. The decision needs to be made by Parks, not just the city of Long Beach. The property is owned by the people of Washington.
Pacific County Commissioner Jon Kaino said he agrees and disagrees with the testimonies.
"There are a lot of personal opinions," he said. "I'll provide a public opinion." He said the county "wants resolution without a huge mess." Local property owners believed that the property belonged to Parks and would never be developed, he said.
"If the commission moves forward with disposal, talk with the county and discuss options," he said, adding that exchanges have been worked out in North County in Tokeland and the Rails to Trails project east of Raymond.
"Most of the land was obtained for nothing or next to nothing," Kaino said. "Maybe you could swap county land for the piano keys and figure out a way to manage them locally."
Parks Commissioner Joe Taller said the agency "wants this off the table once and for all. We've spent too much time on it and we have an obligation to look at the value of the land. It should be preserved for the good of the public."
Kaino responded that the controversy has created a "huge amount of heartache. Generations bought property and thought it was Parks land and never would be developed. Maybe there should be a blanket exchange with the county with deed restrictions keeping it as conservancy land. It could be done in one fell swoop and turn Parks' problems over to the county."
Diana Tenrani, a member of the Long Beach Planning Commission said that people purchasing land "have an appraised value that's not correct. It's a sticky wicket," she said. "We need to step back and reappraise the land then let the buyer decide." She said she agrees with Kaino that it is a solvable situation. "Open areas are important to keep," she said. "None of the keys are developable."
Parks Commissioner Bob Petersen, of Long Beach, said he sees two alternatives, "Get on with looking at all the parcels on the Peninsula and, once the Cape Disappointment Master Plan is approved, we'll shift to working on the keys." He proposed tabling the issue pending action or approving the transfer with modifications with the concurrence of Long Beach. "That would jump-start the process with Long Beach."
Parks Commissioner Cecilia Vogt said the piano keys "don't fit with Parks' vision. I feel the need for a plan trading them with counties and cities for open space. I'm concerned about approving the exchange," she said. "I want to table it."
Taller asked if the issue can be resolved if it's tabled until the December commission meeting. "Can we be sure it will be resolved?" he said.
Parks Deputy Director Frank Boteler moved that the issue be tabled that that commissioners work with Long Beach and the county to develop a comprehensive plan for the land. "It's a challenging situation," he said. "It has to be the best for the citizens of the state and come back in December with a plan."
Turning to the master plan for newly re-named Cape Disappointment State Park, Parks Planner Daniel Farber outlined the progress on the plan to date. He said Parks had hoped to have a draft environmental impact statement before Thursday's meeting. "We didn't meet that hope," he said. "It is poised to be released."
The biggest sticking point with local residents is a proposal that the bayside portion of Loop 100 be made a one-way road with a hiking and bicycle trail incorporated into the highway, making the park a "bicycle haven," according to Farber. The proposal has met with local disapproval, especially from agencies that respond to emergencies, including Pacific County Fire District 1 and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Another problem facing Parks planners is dealing with marbled murrelet habitat within the 1,882-acre park. The tiny seabirds are considered an endangered species and any new construction of trails or campsites within the park could severly impact their breeding areas.
Also to be considered are shifting the orientation of the park contact area to a new gateway center in Ilwaco and creating a "larger and safer" viewing area at the Beards Hollow overlook.
Saying that the master plan involves "huge changes" to the park, Commissioner Joan Thomas said she wants more emphasis on interpretation in the park because "it's so significant to the Lewis and Clark experience."
Taller agreed, saying that Lewis and Clark is "an integral part of the park and is important for the long-term and needs to be emphasized. People are coming here for the Lewis and Clark component and we need to interpret it for them." He went so far as to suggest a tram in the shape of a dugout canoe to carry people up the hill to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. "It will be a miserable failure if we don't emphasize Lewis and Clark for the next 40 years."
Sayette Krause of the Nature Conservancy said he can't support building a bicycle trail through the forest at the park because "It's the only existing example south of Olympic National Park. The forest is priceless and irreplaceable and the impacts can't be mitigated," he said.
Fred Marshall of the Ilwaco Planning Commission said although there is "much positive in the master plan," a one-way road on Loop 100 is "a slippery slope. The road is maintained by the Department of Transportation and is susceptible to landslides. I recommend it be left alone."
Taller said that, although he is a bicycle advocate, "wildlife is the bottom line. We need to collect the maximum amount of revenue and adding more campsites is a golden opportunity. We want the park to be the crown jewel." He also agreed that the Lewis and Clark element in the park needs to be emphasized.
The commission voted unanimously that the plan be tabled until the December commmission meeting and authorized Farber to go forward with the environmental impact statements for them to consider before the meeting.
Commission Chairman Eliot Scull thanked everyone involved in the plan saying "this is a complex process and a worthy one."