"Make Wyckoff public, group says"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:52 PM
"Overturning a recommendation made five years ago, a citizens committee now urges that the entire 50-acre Wyckoff site be turned into a public park - possibly even under federal ownership - when it is cleaned up from years of contamination.The change is not one of heart, but hope.We did look at public ownership the first time around, but dismissed it as not feasible, said Judy Hartstone, a member of both the 1996 and 2001 citizens committees.But now, with the involvement of Jay Inslee and his office, we think there is a chance it can be done.The committee will present that recommendation to the city council tonight. As a next step, it will also ask Mayor Dwight Sutton to appoint a task force to look at how public ownership might actually be achieved. Sutton said he is ready to appoint such a group.They will need to coordinate efforts with congressional representatives and federal agencies to determine what needs to be done to qualify that property as suitable for public uses instead of private development, said Sutton.Inslee, a Bainbridge Democrat, applauded the news that the committee had recommended public ownership of the entire site.It's a bottom-up process, and that recommendation will help a lot with the idea of public ownership, he said.One of the driving forces behind the committee's recommendation is the effort to establish a memorial to the World War II internment of the island's Japanese-American citizens at the site of their removal from Bainbridge in 1942.They departed from the old Eagledale dock at the foot of Taylor Avenue, on the west end of the Wyckoff site.The memorial proposed by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and the Interfaith Council would include some two acres of the Wyckoff property in addition to that portion of Taylor Avenue on the water side of Eagle Harbor Drive.The group has nominated the site to the National Park Service for possible designation as a National Historic Site. There is precedent for the designation. The Manzanar internment camp in California, where the island's internees were taken, is already a National Historic Site, managed by the park service.The park service is sending a delegation to Bainbridge next month to tour the site as part of the consideration process, according to island park board chair Chris Llewellyn.This could be a park that could symbolize healing, she said. It can show that the land can be healed, and that people can be healed too.As a fall-back position, the current committee is recommending residential development only on the upland area - some 55 homes on the 31 acres both north and south of Eagle Harbor Drive. We are laying out those alternatives, Llewellyn said, and compromises between those positions are possible.The obstacle to public ownership is money. The Environmental Protection Agency is cleaning up the creosote contamination at the site, and is charged by law with recovering as much of its costs as possible. The only asset from which cost-recovery could come is the property itself, which has been put in trust.Under terms of the trust, the property is to be sold at fair market value after cleanup, with EPA to benefit from the sale.With those requirements in mind, the 1996 group recommended commercial development of much of the waterfront acreage, including a boat-haulout facility and some marine-related retail. Residential development was proposed for the uplands portion of the property.The current committee's recommendation of partial development is aimed at giving the EPA some return on its cleanup dollars.While Inslee said it might be possible to override the terms of the trust legislatively, he called that problematic because of the possible precedent it would set. Designation of the area as a National Historic Site would change the situation, he said, because it would impact fair-market value.He also raised the possibility of some sort of credit given to the community for environmental stewardship of the property, and possibly of other properties.The local EPA officials seem receptive to discussions about what they might have discretion to do, Inslee said. "