Point Edwards staff, Edmonds Marsh advocates find common ground during review of vegetation management plan

Joe Scordino with Save Our Marsh, far left, asks a question of Point Edwards Homeowners Association President Mike Mitchell, center.

A Thursday morning field trip drew representatives from Save Our Marsh to the Point Edwards condominiums, where they met with staff from the complex and consultants to get a first-hand view of the Point Edwards plan to manage vegetation on the slope above the Edmonds Marsh and the adjoining Unocal site.

According to the group’s Facebook Page, concerned Edmonds residents formed Save Our Marsh “to prevent continued degradation of the Edmonds Marsh and to restore and enhance its ecological functions.”

In the making for several years, the Point Edwards plan will affect 175 trees on the north and west slopes above the marsh. Forty-five of those trees would be removed, 28 coppiced (cut down to stumps but expected to resprout), 78 pruned, and 24 left as snags. The proposal also includes planting 45 new trees, 201 shrubs, 90 ferns, and other groundcover to increase the species diversity on the project site. No action will be taken on 86 trees. See the full application package here.

The proposal has caught the attention of many community members who are concerned about potential negative effects on the marsh environment, wildlife, runoff, and more. Among these are what critics see as the plan’s cursory mentions of birds, wildlife and the sheer diversity of species that depend on the marsh for shelter, breeding and foraging (see recent letter to the editor detailing these concerns and the species affected here).

Edmonds Senior Planner Kernen Lien, who has been overseeing the permitting process, explains the priority of slope and wildlife preservation in the plan.

Organized by City of Edmonds Senior Planner Kernen Lien, Thursday’s tour provided the opportunity for those concerned about the potential effects of the project on the marsh environment to learn about, ask questions and voice concerns about the proposed work, and have these included in the final plan.

Point Edwards, a condominium community overlooking the Edmonds waterfront,  has been granted an extension until July 27 to respond to the city’s request to include a heron study. They will also use this extension to take another look at the SEPA study, add more bird and wildlife names, and include the man-made storm detention pond between the condo building and the westernmost slope.

Point Edwards Landscape Manager Bel’ Johnson points out a copse of alder on the west section of the slope that are proposed for removal (red flagging) and coppicing (blue flagging). In this case the alders proposed for removal are encroaching on existing shore pines, and when gone will give these more room to spread and grow. Coppicing removes the trunks but leaves the root system intact to enhance slope stabilization. Coppiced alders will regrow.

“Our primary goal with this project is slope preservation and stabilization,” said Point Edwards Landscape Manager Bel’ Johnson as she welcomed attendees. “We have worked diligently to develop a plan that fosters diversity in plant life so that food and forage for the birds and other wildlife will be enhanced. The wildlife inhabiting our slopes is an important part of living at Point Edwards and to the Edmonds community as a whole, and this plan aims to retain and enhance these benefits as we move into the future.”

The project includes the natural areas on north and west slopes that fall within the property boundaries of Point Edwards, which extend roughly 50 feet beyond the existing paved public walkway.  Areas further downslope are part of the Chevron/Unocal property and outside the Point Edwards boundary; hence they do not fall within the proposed plan.

A situation the plan hopes to avoid by careful management is trees becoming uprooted during windstorms and due to slope destabilization. This tree is just outside the Point Edwards boundary (indicated by the red stake) on the Unocal property.

In addition to enhancing runoff control and water quality, the slope forms a continuous wildlife corridor used by deer, coyote and more than 70 species of birds.

Among the tour attendees was Scott Markowitz of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, who has been working with the Save Our Marsh group to identify bird species and how they interact with the marsh environment.

“A primary concern is with the timing of the proposed activities,” he stressed. “I want to see any activity such as tree removal, pruning, etc. not coincide with times of nesting and other sensitive periods in the life cycles of these inhabitants.”

Bel’ Johnson, left, and consultant Justina Kraus of Champion Tree Care. Kraus has been the primary source of botanical expertise on the project.

This concern was echoed by Point Edwards arborist consultant Justina Kraus, who has been working closely with Point Edwards on the plan.

“It’s much better to do all the work just once rather than spread it out,” she explained. “And it’s more than just trees – the shrub understory provides critical shelter and food for wildlife and the less we disturb it the better.”

Another of Markowitz’s concerns is the potential of adding view corridors for the benefit of Point Edwards residents that would create breaks in what is now a continuous wildlife corridor along the north and west slopes.

A red-winged blackbird visits the cattails in the made-made storm detention pond between the condo building and the west slope area. While not a natural area, the detention pond is being added to the SEPA study.

“There is a high density of different species along this corridor, especially the section just above the fish hatchery where we have observed more than 70 distinct bird species,” he explained. “Many travel back and forth through this area in ‘feeding flocks’ and creating gaps carries the potential to disrupt this.”

Responding directly to this concern, Point Edwards Homeowners Association President Mike Mitchell made it clear that while views are important, other factors take precedence.

“People talk about residents wanting to cut trees to maintain views, and as part of our commitment to our residents we are under obligation to preserve views,” he explained. “However, we are already losing views due to vegetation growth on the Unocal property [over which Point Edwards has no control]. We also need to maintain slope integrity not only to take care of views, but also maintain the wildlife which is a critical part of the ambiance of living at Point Edwards. For us, in the end, protecting slope integrity and wildlife is a higher goal than views.”

Point Edwards Homeowners Association President Mike Mitchell points out the Alders growing on the adjacent Unocal property, which have the potential to block views but are not under the purview of Point Edwards.

Mitchell added that in several cases residents asked Landscape Manager Johnson to cut trees to enhance their views and she refused, citing wildlife and slope integrity as the reasons.

“And what’s wrong with a nice green forest view,” observed Johnson. “Point Edwards is a special area. We have formal gardens plus all this natural beauty on the slopes. Add to this the chance to observe, photograph, and interact with a wide diversity of wildlife. It’s a resource not just for Point Edwards residents, but for the community as a whole.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. This meeting and site visit was a great example of how Edmonds residents can work together as a community to achieve common goals. The Save Our Marsh group really appreciates the Pt Edwards HOA willingness to meet and conduct a site visit to discuss incorporating wildlife needs in their landscape plans.

  2. As a former long-time resident and board member of Point Edwards, I can personally testify that ‘Bel Johnson, Mike Mitchell, the entire PEOA Board, and almost all PE residents truly do care about preserving the diversity and health of all life on the slope. Congratulations to Bel and the board for working tirelessly and responsibly on this project for years. I am confident that the end result will be a credit to the Edmonds community and to the preservation and enhancement of the Edmonds marsh and its wildlife.

  3. These are all amazing, responsible citizens, showing what can be done together. We should all take pride in this project, and these dedicated professionals who find “common ground”, they all should be commended, and held up as a great example of the unity of Edmonds.

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