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Trouble brewing on Issaquah mountainside?
Fog drifts through thick moss covered trees, in a world not far from the rush of city life. It’s a world so close yet so far away – the Issaquah Alps.
But pink ribbons that read “timber harvest boundary” indicate what soon may happen: 216 acres of forest land clear cut by a logging company.
The land – five contiguous parcels formerly owned by the Issaquah Camping Club, which filed bankruptcy, and an adjoining larger triangular piece, approximately 100 acres, owned by American West Bank – was bought in late December 2012 by Erickson Logging, Inc.
The concern, beyond the trees, is flooding. The land includes the headwater fork of May Creek, which, has been plagued for decades with increasing flooding as storms create greater flows and are compounded by increased silt filling in the creek channel.
“The flooding has become worse over many decades,” said Dave Kappler, president of the Issaquah Alps Trail Club. Kappler said more runoff will bring more silt, which will clog up the creek.
Even now, looking at low-lying homes, there is standing water on the level ground, because the creek has no vertical drop for several miles.
Mary Celigoy owns the Red Barn, a horse-boarding farm in May Valley. It is a 65-acre spread that her parents operated as a dairy farm in the 1940s. She currently has about 25 horses on the property.
“May Creek goes right through the middle,” she said of her property. “Flooding has been an issue for a long time.”
Celigoy said the increased development that has already occurred, has resulted in more runoff. And she worries about the even bigger picture.
“The habitat, trees that are ancient – I’d hate to see that (logging) up there,” she said.
Since the property is in unincorporated King County, a Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forest Practices permit is in the process of being filed by Erickson.
And it is less likely that a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review would be required due to DNRs lesser regulations for land use under a state forest practices permit law, according to the IATC.
A SEPA review looks at the environmental impacts of projects and requires the submission of detailed mitigation plans prior to permit approval. Without the requirement for a SEPA, Kappler understands there will be no public notification required and the state could approve the permit within 30 days of submission without any formal process for hearing or public comment. Timber harvesting could then begin immediately.
But maybe not.
Kurt Erickson, of Erickson Logging, Inc., said he bought the property with the intention to log it, but he’s giving the county the opportunity to buy the land, if it can. He’s given King County six months to come up with a plan.
“A developer offered me the same amount I am offering the county,” Erickson said. “That is the business we’re in, the timber industry. It’s pretty simple; either the county or someone else buys it.”
Based in Eatonville, Wash., Erickson Logging has been in business 28 years. It acquired the land when a developer went broke. The developer had submitted a plan to build 46 lots, but it was never approved.
Erickson’s opinion is that logging and replanting is better than a development, but if the county could buy it, even better.
“I have investors, people I have to report to, too,” he said.
He said he’s told the county he’s willing to take part of the money now and part later, or even trade for other timbered property.
“I’m flexible as much as I can be flexible,” he said.
Kappler said the county has some money, but he said they are trying to piece something together and be as creative as possible to secure the land so it isn’t logged.
Doug Williams, Media Relations Coordinator with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said the department is aware of community interest in the county acquiring the property.
“We’ve been out and looked at it, and we have a number of decisions that need to be made before we move forward with acquisition,” Williams said. “We have not made any decisions yet whether we should apply for any grants, but we’d like to preserve this property.”
The DNR is in the process of determining its land acquisition priorities for grants that would be available near the end of this year or early 2014.
Williams said Erickson does seem willing to work with them, but ultimately “it’s his property.”
Williams said Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park is the largest park in King County, with over 3,100 acres. Erickson’s property is just southeast of Cougar Mountain.