Edmonds officials try to sway state decision on marsh protection

By Evan Smith

Edmonds officials are waiting for a decision from the state Department of Ecology about expanding the protected distance around the Edmonds marsh, but they’re not waiting quietly.

After the city council voted 4-3 in October to recommend one size setback and Council President Kristiana Johnson sent a letter to the department of ecology explaining the city’s position, Mayor Dave Earling sent a letter noting his support for a smaller setback and the three minority council members sent another letter supporting Earling’s position. Then in early November, three members of the majority sent their own letter with their point of view.

So, Johnson has called council members to a presentation on ethics and parliamentary procedure at a special meeting Jan. 3 at the council chambers, 250 5th Ave. N.

Councilwoman Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said Sunday that she didn’t expect the presentation to do much good.

Fraley-Monillas blamed the dispute on the inexperience of Councilmen Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott for what she called not accepting being on the losing side of a council vote.

Both Teitzel and Tibbott joined the council after victories in the 2015 election.

All members of the council say that the marsh area needs an increased buffer from the development around it, but they have taken differing views on how much setback to leave around the marsh.

The marsh is on property between the Burlington Northern railroad tracks and state highway 104 and just south of the Harbor Square shopping mall, which is owned by the Port of Edmonds.

The Port bought the land long after it had been developed.

Harbor Square is set back 25 feet from the marsh.

The Department of Ecology had said that a 65-foot setback, along with enhanced drainage is required to protect wildlife in the area. However, new guidelines from June call for a 125-foot setback.

Teitzel said last week that, while the 125-foot requirement is a statement of the best scientific evidence for similar areas, the 65-foot setback is specific to the marsh with its level of development.

The council’s 4-3 vote in October would require a 125-foot setback.

That doesn’t settle the issue.

The Department of Ecology has the final word on a setback requirement.

Teitzel said the department needs to consider the facts of the current configuration of development around the marsh and balance those facts against environmental concerns.

Teitzel said the city’s priority is to “restore the marsh as a salt water estuary that can provide a resting and foraging place for salmon and also enhance the marsh area as a feeding and resting spot for birds and urban wildlife,” adding, “Unfortunately, the area surrounding the marsh has been developed over the years.”

Teitzel added that the Port of Edmonds, as the owner of Harbor Square and the storm water system located there, which drains into the marsh, has said that it plans to improve the storm water system in conjunction with a master redevelopment plan for Harbor Square.

“Setback requirements that are too extreme will prevent them from proceeding with a redevelopment, he said. “With these things in mind, the Department of Ecology issued a requirement that Edmonds implement a 65-foot setback along the northern edge of the marsh—a setback nearly triple the current 25-foot setback there.

“The majority on Council voted in favor of a 125 foot setback. I dissented after careful consideration of all the facts, as I am convinced such a setback will simply lock in the current configuration of the Harbor Square business park for decades and will plainly bypass a real opportunity for near term, tangible improvement to the ecological quality of the Edmonds marsh to benefit fish and wildlife.”

Fraley-Monillas said the Port can successfully redevelop the Harbor Square area by appealing to the many visitors that the marsh attracts.

“They need to think outside the box,” she said.

Evan Smith can be reached at schsmith@frontier.com.

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