INDEX — Forest trails at the state’s Reiter Foothills and other out-of-the way recreation spots are subject to some of the same water runoff rules as suburban neighborhoods.
Some county leaders want to change that by easing stormwater regulations for trail building. That would cut down on expensive and unnecessary permitting, the reasoning goes.
Members of the environmental community, however, fear the rollback would endanger streams at Reiter and an aquifer serving the city of Index.
The Snohomish County Council has scheduled a hearing to discuss the proposal at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“The stormwater code was really intended to deal with houses and shopping centers and streets,” County Council Chairman Dave Somers said.
The logic behind the current code, he said, “just doesn’t apply to trails.”
Somers said the County Council is likely to seek more time to consider the issue, so a final vote is unlikely Wednesday.
The changes in question could lessen the amount of permitting required for recreation trails and golf-course pathways. Unlike a parking lot or street, these areas are narrow ribbons of hard surface that may not need a retention pond to slow the amount of water pouring off of them.
In June, the county Planning Commission voted 7-4 to recommend the changes.
One of the most obvious beneficiaries of new trail rules could be the state Department of Natural Resources as it clears regulatory hurdles for building out Reiter Foothills. In November 2009, concerns about safety and environmental damage prompted the state to close the area between Index and Gold Bar to all but foot traffic.
The DNR is currently seeking county and state permits for 35 miles of trails on 2,000 acres at Reiter. The idea is to give off-road-vehicle enthusiasts, horseback riders and motorcyclists all a place to enjoy, with maximum safety and minimal environmental damage.
For Bill Lider, a Lynnwood engineer who is active in the Pilchuck Audubon Society, the county proposal unacceptably weakens environmental protections in the foothills.
“The DNR is still fumbling, trying to get their project underway and they don’t want to do the engineering and they don’t want to (pay) the construction cost that would be required to do a safe and pollution-free (off-road-vehicle) park,” he said. “It’s expensive, I agree, but the users need to bear the cost.”
Without stricter rules, Lider worries off-road vehicles could carve trails into trenches that fill up with water when it rains. He said he favors creating a safe, monitored trail network, but wants to see it done to high standards.
The DNR is neutral on the proposed county changes, agency spokeswoman Toni Droscher said.
“We’re just waiting to see what they decide so we know what direction to take going forward,” she said.
The plan is to develop half of the Reiter property for use by four-wheelers and dirt bikes. The rest would be for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The estimated cost is $3.6 million.
It is unclear how a change in county regulations would affect the project’s price tag, Droscher said. No timeline has been set for beginning construction. It depends on county and state permits plus factors such as weather.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.