Bainbridge Council appears likely to approve Strawberry Plant Park restoration project

The bitter battle over one of the island’s most historic sites may soon be coming to an end.

Despite continuing protests from the Friends of Cannery Cove, the group trying to retain the legacy and water access of Strawberry Plant Park, the City Council appears poised to approve the 90 percent design for the planned salmon habitat restoration project at its June 9 business meeting.

The biggest change in the design is the removal of a strip on the east edge of the property as a result of a conflict with the adjoining owner. Also added was a small path down to the water, but critics say the path is only wide enough for one person to access it at a time.

Long Range Planning Director Libby Hudson said staff hopes to bring 100 percent design to the council by the end of the month so that construction can begin by August or September.

Once the shoreline restoration is finished, the project will be handed over to Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District, which will develop the upland portion and possibly add an overwater viewing structure. The structure is permitted but not funded by the two grants that will pay for the project.

During Wednesday’s council study session, in what may be the last time the public could comment on the project, a number of people fighting to preserve the park as it is implored the council to rethink the action, while others pointed to the need to do something for the environment.

“The short story is a lot of people on this island do not want this park to change,” said Kathryn Keve.

Others asked the council to continue on its path, to push back against a vocal minority. Were the council to cancel this project as a result of the opposition, some said, it would be passing on a chance to make a real environmental difference.

“You’ve got a golden opportunity to leave the world a little bit better than we found it,” said Mark Brody. “I ask you to stand up and do something.”

Controversy has swirled around the project since its inception years ago. The city obtained possession of the property in 2005 when it was traded for the John Nelson property on Vineyard Lane. The clear intention at the time was to develop the area as an active public park, an outcome that changed when the city obtained grant funding to do shoreline restoration for salmon habitat. Since then, the project has faced opposition, with a number of complaints referencing an accusation that the city didn’t include enough opinions while considering the project.

“There’s a lot of voices in the community that aren’t being heard,” said island historian Gerald Elfendahl.

A Nov. 7 community meeting on the project gave hope to the Friends, when a number of community members expressed their desire to retain waterfront access. But that input has since been ignored, Elfendahl said.

Last year, the Friends appealed the hydraulic permit the city obtained for the project. In recent months, the case has been contested between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Friends.

The process revealed that the Strawberry Plant property wasn’t in as bad of environmental condition as officials claimed.

While the court held up the city permit, the proceedings showed that out of 201 shoreline sites, Strawberry Plant was in the 46th best shape. The city had earlier ranked it at 186th.

The error came because the city ranked the adjoining parcel of land, not the Strawberry property.

Elfendahl said that changed everything.

“We’re going out and spending $1 million to restore a site that is not only evocatively historic, but it’s in the top 20th percentile, it’s one of the best.”

But the court dismissed the revelation, saying it had no impact on the hydraulics permit.

City planners, and the two funding agencies, Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Elliot Bay Trustees, didn’t consider the change to affect the project. While the change in ranking makes the improvement less drastic (it will be 21st on the list), the city says the physical project is not any less viable because of it.

“It doesn’t diminish this project, which is a vast improvement from what’s out there now,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the adjoining property, which should have carried the bad ranking, was cited very early on in the project as Strawberry Plant, and the mistake was not court until the court procedures. That property is heavily bulkheaded, and there was little to no access to the water.

The project saw another hiccup in April, when a citizen holding a purchase option on a piece of the property objected to the project. The 60-foot strip of land bordering the stream on the east side was then removed from the design.

As currently designed, the project has all funding and permits in place. The restoration project is largely funded by grants, with the city contributing $130,225 for design and survey costs, according to project resources.

The primary grant funding the project comes from the SRFB. The grant is good for $326,745, and the city obtained a grant from the Elliot Bay Trustees for $431,060 as a match for the SRFB award.

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.

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