Plan to build near Maltby peat bog in limbo

MALTBY — A legal tussle over plans to build luxury homes near the shore of a rare peat bog looks likely to continue for a while longer, following a court decision last week.

Meanwhile, interest in conserving the more than 20 acres that make up Hooven Bog appear to be gaining support within Snohomish County government. About 50 people have written letters to county administrators urging protection of the wetland, Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks said.

“I’d like to ensure that this bog is preserved for all time to come,” Ericks said. “We’re working on the issue. It’s premature to tell how it’s going to turn out.”

Hooven Bog likely formed after glaciers retreated from Western Washington about 10,000 years ago. The bog’s nutrient-poor, acidic environment is home to mats of sphagnum moss of several yards thick that float in the bog water. Stunted pines and Western hemlocks grow there, along with a rare bladderwort species.

A state Court of Appeals commissioner decided Tuesday that the court should review a Snohomish County Superior Court judge’s ruling that was in favor of the developers, who own about 30 acres in and around Hooven Bog.

The county had challenged Judge Eric Lucas’ reversal last year of a hearing examiner decision to process the development’s grading permits under stricter environmental rules.

The commissioner found that questions raised by the county met the threshold for a review by a three-judge panel.

The appeals court’s interest in the case came as good news to county government and Randall Whalen, a neighbor who has been leading an effort to conserve the wetland. They have been fighting in court to support the hearing examiner’s decision.

“We’re at least a year away from getting a decision from the Court of Appeals in this,” said Whalen’s attorney, Richard Aramburu of Seattle. “There’s a long way for them to go before they could build anything there and they haven’t even made an application for building permits.”

The developers have owned the property since the 1970s. Robert Dillon and Rodney Loveless have said that their project has been hamstrung by county planners subjecting them to needless delays. They’ve sued the county, claiming damages.

Loveless did not return calls for comment Friday.

In 2007, they applied for permits to build five homes within 100 feet or less of Hooven Bog. The home lots are in woods immediately south of the bog.

They submitted the application two weeks before stricter rules took effect governing what can be built near the bog, which is classified as a category 1 wetland — the kind the county considers of highest ecological value. More current regulations would limit the developers to just one home on their approximately 30 acres.

In 2009, the property owners got in trouble with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology for building a road of crushed-concrete gravel through the bog. The concrete disturbed the acidic chemistry that makes the bog unusual. The developers removed the road the following year, but some material remains.

Lawyers said they don’t expect to argue the case before the appeals judges before autumn.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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