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Islanders proclaim a 'green' mandate

Recent election results are cited in calls for strong critical areas protection.

It takes a creative mind to link reality TV with the Nov. 8 ballot count and the island’s wetland buffers.

But Winslow resident Bob Burkholder says he’s found the connection.

“It reminds me of the TV series ‘Survivor,’ where members are voted off the island,” Burkholder said, as the council considered changes to the Critical Areas Ordinance last week. “Well, the tribe has spoken. Sixty percent of the tribe has voted for clean water and keeping growth out of where it ought not to be.

“The dark forces of radical property rights advocates were soundly defeated,” he said.

Burkholder and others say results from recent races for City Council and mayor reflect the strong pro-environment voice of voters and a desire for equally strong voices in city government, as the critical areas measures near adoption.

Residents at the hearing called for wider buffers around streams and wetlands, better protection for steep slopes and fewer exceptions for developments near sensitive areas.

“I urge you guys not to go backwards,” said resident and Natural Landscapes Project co-director Cara Cruickshank. “Twenty-five-foot (buffers) are not enough for water quality or for fish.”

Current Critical Areas Ordinance guidelines require up to 150-foot buffers around high-quality wetlands. Lower-quality wetlands receive a minimum buffer of 25 feet.

Proposed changes to the CAO could remove the flat 150-foot buffer provision for high-quality wetlands and replace it with a more flexible 50- to 300-foot range. Landowners who craft a “habitat management plan” could scale back high-quality buffers to 75 or 100 feet.

Greg Poels, a King County sensitive areas permit reviewer, said the effectiveness of smaller buffers generally shrinks at a higher rate as backyards slowly swell in size. He also said it is a buffer’s size more than the density of plants that grow in them that absorbs runoff.

“Even 50-foot buffers are hardly the minimum for removing pollutants,” he said.

Lisa Macchio, an island resident and Environmental Protection Agency water quality specialist, said the minimum allowable buffers will do little to protect the health of streams and wetlands. She said the buffers are hard to replace once developments fill in the gap.

“It’s insufficient for water quality protection,” she said. “Once we give that up, it’s a lot harder to get back. I don’t think we want that on Bainbridge Island.”

Jonathan Hallet, a Bainbridge High School junior, also urged the council to consider the long-range impact of buffer width changes.

“I experience nature every day,” he said. “I take walks in the forest, I explore the marshes. You should allow future generations the same experiences. We have an inherent right to nature and clean water.”

Residents also expressed dissatisfaction toward proposed changes that would reduce the number of areas designated with landslide dangers. Changes would also allow more development on steep slopes if landowners demonstrate that such projects could be done safely.

But Louis Richard said such safety assurances are no guarantee. As an example, Darden cited a deadly landslide on Rolling Bay.

“The slide took away treasured members of our community,” he said. “Their house tumbled down the slope even though it was engineered to the hilt.”

Richard asked the council to consider 50-foot buffers on all steep slopes to keep homes safer.

“Gravity nearly always wins in the long run,” he added.

And so should the “voice of the people” when it comes to protecting sensitive areas, Burkholder said.

“Fulfill the election’s mandate. Restore our trust. The tribe has spoken.”

Community Events, April 2014

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