City Council rejects Ecology change, approves wider Edmonds Marsh buffer

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The Edmonds Marsh (Photo by Bill Anderson)
The Edmonds Marsh (Photo by Bill Anderson)

In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, the Edmonds City Council decided to reject a Washington State Department of Ecology-requested change to the city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) by approving a 110-foot buffer for the Edmonds Marsh.

The vote addressed the most controversial of several changes requested by the Ecology Department in late June as part of its review of the City’s Shoreline Master Program. The SMP is how the city defines, regulates and protects critical areas such as the Edmonds Marsh. The State Growth Management Act requires jurisdictions to review, evaluate and, if necessary, revise their critical areas ordinances according to an update schedule.

After months of grappling with buffer zones, construction setbacks and a higher construction base to provide for expected sea level rises, the council approved a critical areas ordinance in May. That was then folded into the current SMP proposal, which was submitted to the Ecology Department for review and approval.

In its June 27 written comments to the city, the Ecology Department identified several changes as prerequisites to approval. Details of these and other findings and conclusions are available on the Ecology website here. The council can choose to either accept the Ecology Department’s changes or submit an alternate proposal, and councilmembers have spent several meetings working their way through the list of Ecology recommendations.

The Ecology Department had recommended changing the council-approved 100-foot buffer in its original SMP to a 50-foot buffer and 15-foot setback, stating it’s more consistent with the Edmonds Marsh Category II wetland classification.

Tuesday night’s vote to approve a wider 110-foot buffer and 15-foot setback was based on a memo by City Attorney Jeff Taraday, which was drafted at the council’s request to assist councilmembers in addressing the Department of Ecology’s requirements for buffers and setbacks.

The vote came on a motion by Council President Kristiana Johnson, and was supported by Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Mike Nelson. Opposing the measure were Councilmembers Neil Tibbot, Tom Mesaros and Dave Teitzel.

Those opposing the wider buffers argued that they will not ensure better protection for the marsh, because it will limit what the Port of Edmonds — which owns the property next to marsh — could accomplish by making marsh improvements through redevelopment.  “It will restrict any opportunity to do restoration on that north boundary,” Mesaros said. “It would be cost-prohibitive for the port to do anything in terms of the buildings that are there. So why not develop a plan that takes into consideration that existing development and provide those incentives so that restoration happens and we do have a vegetated buffer.”

In making her motion, Johnson acknowledged the audience, which included about 30 citizens lobbying for 110-foot buffers as well as Port of Edmonds officials, who have supported the 65-foot Ecology guidance. “I don’t think that promoting the economic development for the Port of Edmonds is inconsistent with protecting the marsh,” Johnson said, but added “the right choice for now is to take an alternative approach that provides better resource protection.” The wider buffer “accomplishes those goals,” she said.

Councilmember Mike Nelson agreed, adding that “the most recent science clearly indicates that a category 2 estuarine wetland, which is what we say our marsh is, should have a 110-foot buffer with a 15-foot setback.” Nelson also suggested that the council should continue “to work with our neighbors in how we want to make this buffer a reality.”

Ecology Department Shoreline Planner David Pater was present at Tuesday’s meeting and told the council after the vote that once the council has worked through all the department’s requested changes to the city’s SMP, the city’s responses must be included in a letter to the Ecology Department Director. “You definitely need to supply some supportive documentation…so our director has all the information she needs to make a decision,” he said, “because ultimately its going to be her decision, in consultation with staff.”

The council also at its Tuesday night meeting:

– Agreed to refinance the city’s 2007 general obligation bonds, which will save the city more than $367,000 in interest.

– Accepted a bid of $573,925 from Welwest Construction for the Madrona Walkway Project, a Safe Routes to Schools project that will run from SR 104 to Madrona School along the south side of 236th Street Southwest.

Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie speaking to the council after her appointment.
Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie speaking to the council after her appointment.

– Unanimously confirmed Mayor Dave Earling’s appointment of Mary Ann Hardie as the city’s new Human Resources Director. In brief remarks, Hardie told the council she was “truly pleased, honored and delighted by this opportunity.”

– Received an update on the Civic Field master plan. The design team will be working with the community to refine the two alternatives presented last month into one preferred hybrid plan. There will be one more online and one in-person public open house Oct. 19.

– Awarded a bid to replace the deteriorating Frances Anderson Center bandshell.

– Moved to next week’s consent agenda a professional services agreement with MIG to update the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan; a supplemental agreement with Herrera Environmental Consultants for the Stormwater Management Code Update; and contracts with James G. Murphy to sell surplus city vehicles and surplus city equipment, and with Pick-N-Pull to scrap totaled city vehicles.

— By Teresa Wippel

2 COMMENTS

  1. Council members Buckshnis, Nelson, Johnson and Frailey-Monillas are to be commended for making a wise and informed decision to follow the science and State laws in approving a 110 foot buffer for the Edmonds Marsh. I still cannot figure out why Department of Ecology staff were proposing a non-scientific approach to setting a smaller buffer for the Marsh and I’m very pleased our City Council rejected their misaligned, unsupportable proposal.

    However, the effort to preserve our Marsh cannot stop here. Concerned citizens need to work with City Government, the Port, Chevron, BNSF Railway, WA Department of Transportation, and WA Department of Ecology (i.e., all of the entities/agencies that border the Marsh or can affect the health of the Marsh) to develop and implement action plans to restore the ecological functions of the Marsh. The edges of the Marsh, especially along the BNSF Railway Tracks and along Harbor Square, were identified by Dept. of Ecology as having woefully inadequate vegetation. Untreated stormwater running off Highway 104, Harbor Square, and the railroad tracks and contaminants from the old UnoCal site into the Marsh have and will continue to adversely affect the health of the Marsh unless something is done. The Council’s attorney was correct in stating that the adoption of a wider buffer does not do anything to change conditions on the ground. However, with community support and involvement, and commitments of concerned citizens, I think we can address the improvements and enhancements that are needed to protect and enhance the 110 foot buffer and preserve the Marsh for the enjoyment of the public and our wildlife. The Demo Garden is an excellent example of how the the Edmonds community and volunteers have rallied together and made good things happen.

  2. Thank you Joe for the compliment. There are a number of examples in this great City of Edmonds where folks have rallied and volunteered to help preserve this wonderful City that we call home. The Edmonds Floretum Garden Club is one of the oldest volunteer groups in the State of Washington and assist the City each year on yearly plantings of the corner beds and baskets. Look at all the support for the Edmonds Veterans Plaza or Old Milltown (now Hazel Miller Plaza). The faith and dedication of the citizens of this town is astonishing.

    Also, as a representative of WRAI8 (Water Resource Area Inventory 8), I will attempt to provide more information regarding the amount of Federal and State dollars available for salmon recovery and habitat restoration. Bothell this year received a lions share of funding just to purchase the golf course from Fonterra and there is yet to be any estimates or plans for revitalization of that golf course into a natural environment.

    Like the song goes “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” is so true as once it is gone, it’s gone and there are many ways to achieve goals if we all work together. I am not opposed to redevelopment – but our main goal should be working on finishing the design and making strides for state and local funding as once that area is restored – the surrounding property areas will certainly increase in value.

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