Members of Livable Lake Stevens — Charles Allen (left), David Clay (center) and Doug Turner — meet at the construction site of Costco in Lake Stevens on Sunday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Members of Livable Lake Stevens — Charles Allen (left), David Clay (center) and Doug Turner — meet at the construction site of Costco in Lake Stevens on Sunday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Costco has broken ground, but Lake Stevens group sues again

This time, Livable Lake Stevens is taking Costco to federal court, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.

LAKE STEVENS — A group of Lake Stevens residents who spent years trying to stop a massive Costco warehouse from coming to town are suing again, this time in federal court.

Ground broke on the future Costco site in June, when the City Council approved the last required agreement with the company. It took about three years to get there.

Livable Lake Stevens, the neighborhood coalition opposing the Costco, filed a Land Use Petition Act lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court in December 2020 that slowed the iconic retailer’s development. That was dismissed with prejudice in late January by Judge Millie Judge, who cited a lack of jurisdiction.

By July, thousands of trees on the site had been cleared.

“It wasn’t old growth in there but it was primarily mature growth,” said Doug Turner, former owner of Turner’s Grocery and a de facto spokesperson for Livable Lake Stevens. “That was just sad. I went up there, took pictures and ‘bout threw up.”

The group sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act for agreeing to fill roughly 1¾ acres of wetlands and damaging another 1.4 acres for the construction of Costco.

On October 29, an attorney representing Costco said the Issaquah-based company intended to intervene.

The city’s mayor, Brett Gailey, said he’s not sure what Livable Lake Stevens is trying to achieve. He noted that if the project hadn’t met all the requirements, it wouldn’t have received the necessary state and federal permits.

“It’s a done deal,” he said.

The permit approved for the project “is inappropriate and illegal for several reasons,” the group alleges in a complaint filed Oct. 18.

The group alleges the required environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact “were not founded on adequate evidence.”

Public comment submitted to the City of Lake Stevens by the Tulalip Tribes and Sno-King Watershed Council in 2019 said building a 160,000-square-foot Costco, plus a parking lot with about 800 spaces, could harm the wetlands and a fish-bearing stream, Mosher Creek, on the property.

“The Tulalip Tribes object to this project as proposed and would strongly recommend revisiting all phases of habitat protection including avoiding (not building in this area), minimizing (much reduced wetland fill) and mitigating (mitigation on site not at a bank),” Ecologist Zach Lamebull and Environmental Divison Manager Kurt Nelson of the Tulalip Tribes wrote in a letter May 6, 2019.

The watershed council echoed the tribes’ concerns in a letter October 2019, adding that Mosher Creek is core spawning habitat for fish, and “no calculations have been provided to demonstrate that … stream base flows will be maintained.”

A fisheries representative from the Tribes reiterated those ecological concerns.

“The Tulalip Tribes consider the potential habitat loss associated with this project and associated reduction in salmonid production a detriment to tribal treaty resources,” Fish and Wildlife Director Jason Gobin wrote. The tribes asked that the city and Costco continue efforts to lessen the environmental impact “to the fullest extent possible.”

After hearing concerns from residents and scientists, Costco agreed to offset the loss of nearly 2 acres of wetlands with the creation of 0.8 acres of wetlands offsite, to add fish-friendly culverts for Mosher Creek and to buy credits in Snohomish County’s wetland mitigation bank.

Turner said about 600 people in and around the city signed on to join Livable Lake Stevens when the group began protesting Costco three years ago.

Members of the group said they did not oppose Costco coming to town. They just wish it did not have to sit on top of what once was critical habitat, Turner said, aware of the irony that he was sipping from a Kirkland Signature water bottle.

Turner said he takes weekly trips to the Everett Costco.

“I’ve got nothing against Costco,” he said. “I love Costco. Most people love Costco.”

Many Lake Stevens residents support the big box store coming to town.

Mike Beazer and his family have lived in the city for about a decade. He and his wife brave the weekend I-5 north traffic to hit the Smokey Point Costco a few times a month to get “inexpensive, good quality stuff,” for their four kids.

“Having a Costco nearby is one of the things we looked for when we were moving — we have a lot of people to feed,” he said.

A group is suing the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the planned construction of a Costco warehouse in Lake Stevens will violate the Clean Water Act. This Aug. 10 aerial photo was taken after thousands of trees were removed near homes at the end of the 2100 block of 93rd Drive SE. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

A group is suing the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the planned construction of a Costco warehouse in Lake Stevens will violate the Clean Water Act. This Aug. 10 aerial photo was taken after thousands of trees were removed near homes at the end of the 2100 block of 93rd Drive SE. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

Beazer called Lake Stevens the best place his family has ever lived. He said he understands the concerns of the old-timers “who want to live in the same place they decided to live to begin with,” but he believes the pros of a new Costco outweigh the cons.

Kay McDonald, 81, lives on her family’s property of 110 years near Cavalero Hill Community Park. It’s about a mile away from the Costco construction site.

Her biggest concern with the Costco is not the potential to flood her rural neighborhood with traffic, but the project’s environmental impact. Specifically, “the destruction of the wildlife habitat and the wetlands that feed into Mosher Creek, which is a salmon-bearing creek,” McDonald said.

Similarly, David Clay, who has lived near Snohomish for about six decades, said he is also concerned about the downsides.

“It’s amazing to me that people would rather have more retail than a livable environment,” he said.

Both Clay and McDonald said they feel the city of Lake Stevens failed to listen to concerned residents.

They, like Turner, attended the city’s public hearings for the project and said it appeared like a done deal — city officials “already had their minds made up,” Clay said.

At one of the first public meetings, about 10 city officials and Costco representatives were on hand to answer questions. Turner said during that meeting, city officials lateraled questions to Costco.

In an interview last week, Gailey framed the store as filling a need for Lake Stevens.

“It’s going to bring jobs into our community,” the mayor said. “It’s going to bring opportunities for sales tax revenue and reduce the amount of grocery leakage we have as a city and make it so we’re shopping local.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

Timeline

February 2006: A Fred Meyer is proposed for the future Costco site. It ended up in Snohomish.

March 2018: Then-Mayor John Spencer says Costco may have plans to build in Lake Stevens.

April 2019: Costco applies for its first city permits.

July 2019: More than 100 people gather to hear from city officials and Costco representatives who share early plans.

October 2019: Costco applies for more city permits.

November 2019: Hundreds crowd into the Lake Stevens City Council chambers to voice their opinions on the new store. Testimony stretches into the night. Councilmembers decide to continue the hearing later.

December 2019: A big crowd gathers again at the council chambers. After hours of public comment, the council unanimously votes to approve Costco’s development agreement, serving as a contract between Costco and the city. The company still needs several permits.

March 2020: Costco asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands on the proposed site.

April 2020: Lake Stevens approves three of the company’s permits. A couple of weeks later, Livable Lake Stevens appeals those approvals.

November 2020: The city hearing examiner denies Livable Lake Stevens’ appeals.

December 2020: Livable Lake Stevens files a Land Use Petition Act lawsuit.

January 2021: A Snohomish County Superior Court judge dismisses the Land Use Petition Act case. Costco has its city permits and waits on a decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands.

April 2021: Filling of the wetlands is authorized.

June 2021: Lake Stevens City Council passes a purchase sale agreement for the remaining parcels for the Costco. Ground breaks later in the month.

July 2021: Contractors clearcut the 40-acre property.

September 2021: Construction is underway on the road to Costco. Everett water transmission lines have to be moved to accommodate it.

October 2021: Livable Lake Stevens alleges Clean Water Act violations by the Army Corps of Engineers and files suit in federal court.

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