Strawberry project moves forward

Michael Ellis sits on the concrete edge of a walkway out to Eagle Harbor at Strawberry Plant Park, he and his dog Daisy have an opportunity that rarely comes around this time of year: to soak up some sun in December.  Ellis is a frequent visitor to the park. He enjoys walking his dog there, and he likes the tranquility. - Staff Photo/ Brad Camp
Michael Ellis sits on the concrete edge of a walkway out to Eagle Harbor at Strawberry Plant Park, he and his dog Daisy have an opportunity that rarely comes around this time of year: to soak up some sun in December. Ellis is a frequent visitor to the park. He enjoys walking his dog there, and he likes the tranquility.
— image credit: Staff Photo/ Brad Camp

Nearly five months after the Strawberry Plant Park project stalled as a result of protests by the group Friends of Cannery Cove, the City Council decided Wednesday to continue with the project as currently planned.

The council decided to move forward with Strawberry Plant with the addition that the city search for ways to allow more access to the shoreline.

The amendment was suggested by Councilor Barry Peters, who learned at a Nov. 7 community meeting about the project that shoreline access was a shared goal of the community.

The proposed project would dramatically alter the shape of the shoreline along the 4.7-acre Eagle Harbor parcel.

Concrete bulkheads and the shoreline would be cut back, with the intent of creating new marshland and nearshore habitat. The proposal includes provisions for an over-water viewing structure, a bridge over the creek and small-boat launch.

The council made the decision to move on and pursue 90 percent design on the project several months after it was stopped to allow for greater community involvement. After hearing all sides of the issue, the council ultimately opted for shoreline restoration.

“I know there’s been a lot of opinion on this both ways,” said Councilor Kjell Stoknes. “I have decided to prioritize the restoration of the shoreline.”

Stoknes was backed by the rest of the council, with the exception of Kim Brackett, who abstained.

As the decision came closer, several people tried to speak on the issue but were denied by the council. Because it was a special meeting, Council Mayor Chris Snow said, regular public comment was not mandatory.

When the decision came to move forward with the project, several people who didn’t support the restoration were incensed. One resident had to be escorted out of Council Chambers by the chief of police after he protested the council’s decision.

City staff will now work toward 90 percent design on the project with bidding and construction scheduled to go forward in fall 2010 or spring 2011.

The city has partnered with Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District to restore the site. The city would work on the shoreline, removing concrete and restoring salt marshes and riparian vegetation zones, while the park district would develop the upland areas.

The park was once home to a cannery that served the island’s booming berry industry. It was later the site of a concrete plant and a commercial center, which burned in 1997.

Development of the park has been a hot topic this year. At a council meeting in July, numerous supporters from the Friends of Cannery Cove, led by local historian Gerald Elfendahl, appeared and implored the council to stop the project so more public involvement could be considered.

The public turnout caused council action to be halted until further community input was received.

As currently designed, the project has all funding and permits in place. The restoration project is largely funded by grants, with the city contributing $127,000 (14 percent of the total budget) for design and survey costs, according to project documents.

The primary grant funding the project comes from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB). The grant is good for $252,395, and the city obtained a grant from the Elliot Bay Trustees for $315,443 as a match for the SRFB award.

Since the July 22 meeting, no further design has occurred on the project, but the city continued to seek and obtain the necessary permits to restore the shoreline.

The full community had an opportunity to discuss the project at an all-day meeting Nov. 7.

At the meeting, Friends of Cannery Cove, neighbors of the park, City Councilors and other interested citizens suggested dozens of possible uses for the area. While the councilors said they left the meeting with some added clarity, Elfendahl and the city felt the meeting didn’t come to a clear conclusion.

“I was extremely gratified that we all sat down and we came up with nine values we agreed upon,” Elfendahl said. “We just scratched the very surface and there wasn’t time to explore all the options.”

“There was no consensus reached about any of the ideas put forth regarding how to honor the interests participants articulated,” city notes on the meeting said.

Property owners neighboring the park use it relatively often, and several neighbors like the idea of a more developed upland park with an emphasis on restoration of the shoreline.

“I’m just hoping they use what’s there and clean it up,” said Weaver Road resident Rich Dempsey, who has lived across the street from the park for six months.

Dempsey would like to see a combination where the emphasis is put on the environmental aspect, but with an additional focus on maintaining the historical character of the site.

Michael Ellis doesn’t live near the park, but he likes to go visit two or three times a week with his dog Daisy.

“You come down here and there’s no one here,” he said. “There’s good access to the water and it’s quiet,” he said.

Ellis said he hasn’t followed everything the city is proposing to do to the park. But, when asked how he felt about the possibility of the water access becoming more restricted in favor of restored salmon habitat, he said: “I think that’s fine. I have no problem with that.”

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