Councilmen rebut report on Skykomish

When the environmental group American Rivers announced earlier this week that the Skykomish River was the fourth most at-risk river in America, some members of the Snohomish County Council were caught by surprise.

“I am … a bit puzzled as to why you have selected the Skykomish River as a main focus of your report, in that the Skykomish is a very healthy river,” Councilman John Koster wrote to American Rivers. “(It’s) arguably the cleanest in Snohomish County.”

Councilman Jeff Sax concurred.

“Each year you issue a report of endangered rivers, a list which is compiled by self-nominations from activists and not grounded science,” Sax wrote to American Rivers. “Perhaps your Seattle office should visit the Duwamish River near their offices to see an example of a river impacted by development and industry.”

Koster and Sax said they felt blindsided by the Washington, D.C., group, mainly because they, like many in the county, have been working hard to protect the river.

They pointed out that the county is participating in numerous projects designed to help endangered chinook salmon and other fish species recover on the Skykomish River and throughout Snohomish County.

On Wednesday, American Rivers targeted the river saying it was because the County Council is getting ready to adopt two key umbrella growth management tools that could affect the river’s health. American Rivers spokeswoman Amy Souers Kober agreed that the river is currently in good health .

The first is the 10-year update to the county’s comprehensive plan, a draft of which was released this week. The second is the county’s critical-areas ordinance, a set of rules regulating development on ecologically sensitive spots such as wetlands, creeks and slopes.

“The growth and development decisions that the county will be making will largely determine the fate of clean water, salmon and steelhead, and family farms and forests across the county,” Souers Kober said.

She also said American Rivers makes its listing using a rigorous review conducted by a panel of scientists and river experts.

Koster and Sax said they want to protect the Skykomish River.

“Those who live and work within this basin take pride in our communities that span from the urban areas of Everett to the rural quality of life that includes small towns, farms, and forestry,” Sax said. “We want to protect and restore salmon runs that are vital to our local culture, identity, pride and economy.”

Under the county’s current proposal for updating its 10-year plan, all cities would get to expand their urban growth areas by a collective 31/2 square miles over 20 years.

Environmentalists say they worry that the council will vote for a high-growth alternative that would allow the urban growth footprint to grow by 11 1/2 square miles.

The council is likely to adopt a plan in the fall, at the same time it is expected to update its critical areas ordinance.

Since the Skykomish River was listed by American Rivers on Wednesday, County Council members reported receiving as many as 700 letters from people either concerned about the river or upset that the river has been unfairly targeted.

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