By JESSICA SPARKS
Published Sept. 25, 2013
Ecology picks apart East Monroe draft study
Final study expected this week
MONROE - The state Department of Ecology has pointed out major flaws in the East Monroe comprehensive plan amendment draft environmental statement, ultimately recommending the city reject the request to rezone the property.
Ecology is highly skeptical of the draft study’s conclusion that commercial development would improve the critical areas on the property. The agency also questions the study’s suggestion of how development could work on the property and points out the study’s flawed scientific analysis.
Heritage Baptist Fellowship Church has been trying for years to get the city to change the land-use designation on 42 acres of flood-prone farmland it bought as limited open space to general commercial.
The property sits right off U.S. 2 in east Monroe within the Skykomish River shoreline jurisdiction. The property has significant environmental, flooding and traffic constraints. It also lacks access to utility infrastructure.
The church, though, is having a hard time getting around the science.
The study suggests solving the environmental and flooding obstacles by opening up the property to commercial development on just 11 acres of the 42-acre site. To accomplish development, the study suggests taking a lot of soil sitting below the 100-year flood line and moving it to the 11-acre development site and planting trees.
Ecology doesn’t believe this will solve the flooding impacts.
Even though the 11 acres sit outside the shoreline jurisdiction and the city’s critical area buffers, “the proposed habitat enhancements and excavation for compensatory flood storage have the potential to significantly alter the slough and wetlands,” wrote Paul Anderson, Ecology wetland specialist, to the city in response to the draft study.
Anderson wrote that he doesn’t believe the work could be accomplished without state and federal approval.
“It is unclear how commercial development of the site will provide a net benefit to ecological function as the (draft study) summary concludes,” Anderson wrote.
The study also completely ignores the impact of converting scarce productive farmland into commercial property, he wrote.
Further, the study’s analysis is flawed.
The study does not “equitably balance the potential environmental impacts with the economic interests,” Anderson wrote.
The study is flawed in that it fails to use the existing site conditions as a baseline to compare alternative development options for the site, he wrote.
“All of the alternatives are a significant change from the existing site conditions and it is unclear how the proposed no action alternative accurately reflects the existing conditions and use of the property,” Anderson wrote.
The study compares alternative development options to what could be built on the site today without having to change the zoning (a church, day care facility or fitness club) but which none currently exist.
The “no action” alternative is based on prospective development and doesn’t provide an objective evaluation of the potential impacts based on the site’s current condition.
To accurately compare impacts of development options, the final study needs to use existing site conditions as the baseline, he wrote.
This latest study was paid for by the church and submitted to the city in August after a previous city study of the property was found to be “profoundly lacking” in environmental review and “inadequate as a matter of law” by the city’s former hearing examiner who was fired shortly after handing down that decision.
The church’s new study paints a rosy picture of how commercial development would actually improve the property.
“It’s an exciting site,” said study author Susan Boyd of Kirkland engineering firm PACE. “It’s not performing very well right now, but a lot of the critical areas need rehabilitation. Sometimes people think that not developing property is the best thing for the environment, but I don’t think I share that opinion. The conditions of the shorelines and wetlands are in poor condition and will continue to deteriorate over time without corrective action.”
The city closed comment on the draft study Friday, Sept. 13. A final environmental impact statement is expected to be released Friday, Sept. 27. The city wants to approve the rezone by the end of this year.
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