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Ignoring federal jurisdiction and city preservation policies

Green Cove Park

In his application to build 181 houses on an environmentally sensitive site at Green Cove, Jerry Mahan has benefited continually from city assistance. Staff at the Department of Planning and Community Development recently decided to give Mahan another 90 days to respond to further questions that arose during their substantive review of his project.

Choosing to dodge federal review

In an even more generous assist, the city apparently intends to refrain from notifying federal agencies of the need for certain required reviews of the application. Reviews by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection agency are required because there are jurisdictional wetlands on the site, and because waters from the site connect directly to federally protected waters (Butler Creek, Green Cove Creek, Budd and Eld Inlets).

In addition, because there are salmon, mud minnow and orca in these waters protected by the Endangered Species Act, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries (NMF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have jurisdiction. Another reason relates to the fact that sediment-laden water leaving the site plays a role that significantly affects the integrity of habitat in navigable waters, regardless of whether there is known contamination on the site.

A recent letter from the Squaxin Island tribe to the city also made clear that contamination from the Green Cove site can affect the environment for decades unless it is identified and remediated.

The city’s position is that it doesn’t need to contact these agencies because there is no in-water work involved. In choosing to ignore federal jurisdiction, the city risks losing federal funding as well as losing its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit if it allows contaminated water to leave a site and enter tidal waters where salmon and Orca live.

City departments in conflict with one another – and the state

The City of Olympia as well as Thurston County and the state of Washington are actively working to preserve salmon and orca. The Green Cove Basin Comprehensive Plan, written in 1989 and subsequently adopted by the city and county, noted the loss of fish habitat in Green Cove Basin resulted from several factors. Besides vegetation clearing and fish barriers, altered hydrology and water quality degradation are the primary causes of loss of habitat. Both of these would significantly increase if this Project is built.

Recently, Thurston County applied for a grant to remove fish barriers on Green Cove Creek. Olympia’s Department of Parks regularly schedules Orca Recovery Days – – community cleanup of creeks flowing into Budd Inlet. Such efforts are necessary to stop further decline of salmon in Puget Sound, already down 90% from historic levels. House Bill 2550, proposed by Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force, would shift criteria for evaluating actions from No Net Loss to Net Ecological Gain.

It defies reason that the Planning Department’s would continue to enable a development proposal that directly threatens the continued viability of species that other departments are working so hard to defend. Stormwater runoff was the #1 problem identified in the Green Cove Comprehensive Plan: “The single biggest threat to the basin’s beneficial surface water uses is posed by future excess stormwater runoff to Green Cove Creek.” Mahan has requested to implement a stormwater plan that deviates from Olympia’s Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual, using measures that are less stringent and less protective of the environment.

With the increase in impervious surface that would come with development, runoff from this site would significantly degrade the Green Cove and Butler Creek ecosystems and threaten the endangered species who live here. Add to this the likelihood that serious toxic contamination exists on site, and the prospects for Green Cove Creek, a priority stream in the Deschutes watershed, will grow dimmer if it is not protected.

Esther Kronenberg is a resident and ally of the Green Cove Watershed.

Contact the city about development at Green Cove:
Cari Hornbein: chornbei@ci.olympia.wa.us
Tim Smith: tsmith@ci.olympia.wa.us
Council members: CityCouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us

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