June 13, 2016: It was an odd vote: three of the most fervent tree huggers on the Sammamish City Council voted June 7 against a motion intended to save trees.
Kathy Huckabay, Tom Odell and Bob Keller opposed a motion by Council Member Tom Hornish to remove the East Lake Sammamish Trail exemption from language defining wetland buffers. Hornish said the language, which stopped buffers on the west side former railbed that is now the ELST, put trees on the east side at risk of removal if they were inside wetland buffers as defined throughout the rest of the City.
Code says buffers end at streets and, up until a 4-3 vote June 7, the rail bed. Hornish, joined by Mayor Don Gerend, Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama and Member Christie Malchow, voted to extend the wetland buffers to the east side of the ELST, where applicable. Hornish said the result would be to save some trees on the east side of the trail.
None of the three dissenters explained their negative votes. Each asked some clarifying questions during the discussion of Hornish’s motion.
Discussion begins at the 3:40 hour mark in the nearly seven hour council meeting and ends at 4:07 in the meeting with the vote.
Keller later spoke with Sammamish Comment explain his vote. Odell did not respond to a request for comment.
Tree retention along the ELST has been a controversial issue. During construction of the Northern half of the trail, from Inglewood Hill Road to the Redmond City Limits, King County removed thousands of trees, including scores of high quality “significant” trees, to the dismay of residents along the trail and others. During the approval process of Section 2B on the Southern end of the trail (7-11 south to the Issaquah City Limits), tree retention became a negotiating point between Sammamish and the County.
“This [view] only pertains to the trail,” Keller wrote in an email to The Comment. “While it is natural to look up to the trees first, it is important to look down at the wetlands as well. In some places along the trail the man made
ditches, by evolution are now wetlands and filling the role of water purifier, protecting the lake, its habitat and possible keeping water from flooding someone’s home. The code language we discussed the other night in my view may, in some cases, take pressure off potentially filling, or tight lining the ditches/wetlands in relation to the buffers and property owners situations. A balancing act of competing goods at best. One that needs to be considered case by case.”
“There are probably areas along the trails where ditches turn into wetlands, providing an environmental benefit. It would take the pressure off the ditches if we didn’t put the buffer on the other side of the trail … for the benefit to avoid some potential flooding, [allowing] parking cars,” Keller later said in an interview.
“It’s a trade off at best. We have competing interests here. We have trees. We have wetlands. We have a trail that’s an incredible benefit to the city. It was my intent to prioritize the water for purification and for potential flooding control. It’s my understanding that by reducing that buffer down there it may give the homeowners some options.”
Hornish, who lives in Section 2A of the trail (7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road), said that he believes water flows from the east side of the trail underneath the rail/trail bed and that trees fall within the buffer for the wetlands, provided the buffer isn’t legislatively terminated on the west side by the rail/trail bed.
Hornish said that the proposed code amendment stopping the buffer at the trail meant that anyone could build on the west side of the trail without any “real analysis” whether or not the wetland buffer on the east side of the trail provides a biological function.
“Because of the difference in construction between the trail and a street,” Hornish argued that the amendment to code including the trail in the exception to the buffers should be deleted.
Staff said that analysis of function is on a case-by-case basis. Water flows under the street in some cases, as it does with streets. Wildlife and habitat may inhabit areas and sometimes there is hydrologic function.
Odell said the 80-year old rail bed had been compacted by the heavy engines and freight cars, which he believed would prevent water from flowing underneath the trail to or from wetlands from extending beyond the bed to the east side of what is now the trail.
Hornish said that by stopping the buffer on the west side of the trail, “what’s happening is King County is removing trees on the trail” because they are no longer in the buffer. “We’re going to allow an applicant to come in on the trail…and remove trees? I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Hornish summed up by saying his motion would “preserve” the buffer rather than allowing it to be “truncated” by the trail.
Keller’s comments echoed those he said a short time earlier in the long meeting when discussing pilot development programs in areas of isolated wet lands.
There were three pilot programs to allow development within buffers of isolated wetlands approved by the Council several years ago. The State Department of Ecology (DOE) objected to the pilot program within the area of shorelines that also fall under DOE jurisdiction. Any development would be subject to DOE review, which could take six months to two years.
Mayor Gerend sought to remove the pilot program from the shoreline areas to eliminate the requirement of DOE review, but to retain them elsewhere in the City. Odell, Huckabay and Keller were on the losing end of another 4-3 vote on this issue.
The three in the minority favored eliminating the pilot program entirely. Keller noted that there were more than 30 isolated wetlands that have been identified so far in Sammamish and feared a proliferation of development around them. He expressed concern over development resulting in flooding and other impacts on neighbors, an issue he also raised in his interview with Sammamish Comment over the Hornish motion.
Gerend responded that if the pilot programs resulted in negative impacts, it would not be extended to other sites.
The discussion of the pilot program begins at 3:28 hours into the meeting.
I think you can drop the nominal pejorative “tree hugger” from anyone on the current City Council.
Unless you only count the trees on their private properties.
Let’s face it, Sammamish is run by pro-development and property rights ideologies. If people wonder why there are clear-cut forests and votes for decimating trees along the trail, look no further than the current City Council.