Commentary: Parks plan review will ensure comprehensive approach to environmental restoration, protection

Diane Buckshnis

As a city councilmember, I’ve received hundreds of emails and comments from residents regarding the draft six-year PROS (Parks, Recreation and Open Space) Plan update. I appreciate all input and have met with a number of citizens and exchanged emails.

Being an elected official has afforded me the rewarding experience of being supported and endorsed within our environmental community: I have attempted to represent them well. I’ve met scientists, tribal leaders, fellow elected officials, stormwater specialists, agency experts and professionals in all aspects of helping cure/restore our environment to save our salmon and by extension our whales.

So, let’s talk about the plan from an environmental and watershed perspective. I’m a firm believer that good integrated plans can result in improvements that benefit the public and our environment. I’ve seen it through grant requests that I’ve read over the past seven years while being on the WRIA 8 Salmon Recovery Council and can provide examples.

I would like to see the plan reflect our continued environmental community values for preserving and improving our environment. The survey did not address salmon recovery, watersheds issues or honoring tribal treaty rights to restore our Sound. Adding these environmental goals and action plans will not be diluting the plan’s survey results for enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities for all citizens throughout the city.

Remember, environmental aspects, salmon recovery, culvert replacements and watersheds solutions are important distinctions when funding aspects are involved and why comprehensive plans, goals and action items are necessary for this plan, as identified in the 2016 plan.

We all know the city administration doesn’t have the staffing and funding to do everything everywhere, so the plan must prioritize the critical actions beyond routine maintenance and land acquisition to include potential holistic projects and available resources or potential grant resources. Pragmatic and comprehensive plans will indicate to grant funding agencies that we are ready and able to design and/or implement.

Sometimes identifying an issue publicly can lead to resolution/restoration assistance by utilizing our volunteering community with little or no cost to the city. The creation/restoration of the off-leash dog area at Marina Beach, where from 2005 – 2015 a small group volunteers worked to remove tons of debris under the supervision of the parks manager, is a great example. Or the most recent Washington State Department of Transportation/citizen project that allowed the removal of wire fences and invasive plants on both sides of the Hwy 104 culverts to free the stream flow into the Edmonds Marsh. The Tree Board has been instrumental in working with staff for Earth Day and Arbor Day festivities and volunteers from Student Saving Salmon, Youth Commission, local business, chamber volunteers and many community members enjoy these events. I am pleased that the plan did finally recognize this volunteering aspect as it is a key component for attempting to achieve diversity and inclusion.

So the restoration of the Edmonds Marsh is a good example of essential watershed planning and it was a high priority in the 2016 plan. Now that management of the marsh has been removed from stormwater and placed under parks, the PROS Plan should include actions steps for a comprehensive restoration approach that includes outdoor recreation, education, wildlife and estuary conservation.

This comprehensive planning approach must have an environmental lens for the near-shore estuary vision, which includes the marsh, the wildlife sanctuary, the old Unocal property, and Marina Beach. If planned together as a complete system, it opens the door to a multitude of federal and state grant opportunities that could cover most of the restoration and/or land purchase costs.

For this reason, I lobbied to disapprove the two Marina Beach grants as the project would have cost the city $4 million with only $1 million in grant funds — or only 20% of the project was grant funded. With all the grant requests that I have reviewed over the years, generally grants represent 85% – 100% of the project. These two grant applications also left off the design of the tidal channel that connects the Sound to the marsh, hence the salmon recovery aspect. So, from a fiscal perspective, it made no sense to restore Marina Beach Park without the holistic approach.

With millions of salmon recovery dollars available, the restoration approach for the marsh should include items like nature trails, salmon viewing stations, bird watching and the recreational aspect already found in the Marina Beach. This regional park would expand the wildlife sanctuary onto the old Unocal property and tie in the Marina Beach recreational aspect along with the new tidal channel and viewing bridge. This ecological restoration project could open an urban regional park for people, future generations and our wildlife. The educational aspects are limitless.

With the array of grant programs available through salmon recovery and near-shore estuary programs, the burden on local taxpayers will be minimal or even non-existent. Thus, funds would be available for other areas of the city that need new neighborhood parks.

My years of experience on the WRIA 8 Salmon Recovery Council and the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, and reviewing acquisition and restoration grants, tells me that if our PROS Plan has well thought-out environmental goals and approaches (actions), the city will have no problem obtaining the needed grant funds and assistance and it should place little burden on city resources (as funds were set aside in previous years).

As a method of addressing PROS Plan concerns, I suggested using the process when finalizing the Urban Forest Management Program by creating a small task force to address insufficient content, and specific action items for some of the goals and objectives. Many are willing to assist so as to bring this updated plan more in compliance with the 2016 PROS Plan update and allow action items for successful oversight.

— By Diane Buckshnis, Edmonds City Council

  1. I appreciate your hard work for the community Diane. We need to spend wisely and truly focus on our environment when trying to put Edmond’s tax payer money to use. Grants are great tools as long as they pay for the project.

    My concern with the bike lane grant is how much will the actual price tag be? As a citizen before bike trails or chargers, sidewalks in all communities should be a goal. Elderly and kids do walk everyday. There are many neighborhoods right above the Bowl without sidewalks. Please here us and for a committee to make it safer for all.

  2. I so appreciate My Edmonds News and the opportunity to read background commentary on city issues.

  3. Now is the time to create a holistic vision for a regional wildlife sanctuary that includes Marina Beach Park, the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary and the old UNOCAL property. The draft PROS plan under review can easily include such a policy that can atrack grant funding and the Council should do this now, not later. Such a policy does not conflict with the PROS plan goal of equitably providing more neighborhood parks and recreation opportunities to underserved areas of Edmonds. That is a sound policy choice. But protecting and restoring the waterfront beaches and Marsh-Estuary is required because they cannot be provided in other neighborhoods. They are where they are. We can must do both. Equity, protection and restoration is a responsibility – not a choice.

  4. I heartily applaud this very useful perspective statement from Diane. I would love to see the Parks director inprove the current draft by placing clearer statements on goals for watershed and habitat improvement in a prominent position to balance with concerns and plans for parks improvements. There has been some response to the Director’s interpretation of survey results to the effect that “values have changed” and apparently that means downplaying some previous initiatives including full Marsh development or attention to the habitat and open space components such as the underwater pack or the acquisition of new areas like the unical proporty or the Perriville woods. I think it is an important improvement to add equitable allocation of resources to previously identified initiatives. BUT Parks is not a zero sum universe where embracing a new focus means significant changing or shifting away from other important goals and projects. The Parks resources don’t need to be either/or. I would love to see the improved embrace of all significant components be thoughtfully integrated and the basic competence of the current PROS draft continue to be improved with the application of some real wisdom in formulating the plan. I realize in some ways it is a document created to check some eligibillity boxes but it can be usefully so much more. Thanks again to Diane for this eloquent perspective and to the many who have contributed public comments to broaden the vision of the plan. Much more useful in some important ways than the survey which collected a somewhat random set of inputs from the lucky 5% who found the invitation to participate. Let’s keep working together as a community and a council to make it the best, most inclusive parks blueprint or vision statement so the next 6 years we see the breadth of accomplishment the Edmonds community deserves. And thank you council and Parks dept. for all the work so far.

    1. I, too, would like to see the PROS revised to strengthen the environmental steps that are needed to restore and protect our streams, wetlands, estuaries, and natural spaces for the benefit of people and wildlife. Everyone, regardless of where they live, benefits from a healthy, thriving environment.

      As Council member Buckshnis so clearly states, explicitly spelling out these goals and objectives makes it easier for the city to secure outside grant money. This, in turn, leaves more city money available to add parks and open space to currently underserved areas of Edmonds. In short, it’s a win-win.

      I encourage everyone who cares about both equity AND the environment to let our Council members know that these two important values should never be pitted against each other. We need BOTH to sustain a healthy, vibrant, and thriving city.

  5. Many THANKS to Diane Buckshnis, Will Chen, Vivian Olsen, Neil Tibbott and Kristiana Johnson who take the time to actually listen to all of the citizens of this City, and ensure we preserve and promote “It’s an Edmonds Kind of Day” – this ‘community value’ has not changed and that is why there was such an outpour of public comment on fixing the draft PROS Plan to reflect all that is important in Edmonds.

    Diane’s commentary eloquently describes what effective planning should mean in local government, and why local government should always take the time to ensure a holistic approach for the betterment of our citizens, our visitors, and our environment.

    I know there are many who want to move on and just approve the PROS Plan, as is, so it can be put on the shelf with all the other Plans that are ignored because of the lack of well thought out actions. That is the perfect example of moving backwards in good governance.

    The PROS Plan is supposed to provide guidance to City administrators on how WE (the citizens of Edmonds) want to have OUR property (City property) managed. The Plan must identify what’s needed to maintain and improve our Parks, preserve our natural areas (Open Spaces), and expand outdoor recreation. And, obviously, the Plan has to lay out the priorities for investments of City resources as well as opportunities for external funding (i.e., state and federal grants).

    Further, the Plan should recognize, encourage and support the many citizens in Edmonds who volunteer to help improve our Parks, Open Spaces and OUR City. This is what good stewardship is all about, and should not have been deleted from the 2016 PROS Plan during this ‘update’ process.

    So, let’s move on with fixing the draft PROS Plan following the strategic approach that Diane suggests so we will have a Plan with accountability for performance. Many citizens stand ready to help (for FREE)!

  6. Thank you, Diane, for this helpful explanation. We are lucky to have you on the Council to advocate for protecting and preserving our unique ecosystem.

    While our Mayor attempts to politicize the issue, you are doing the real work needed to ensure Edmonds remains environmentally & financially sound.

    I’d also like to thank Will Chen, Vivian Olsen, Neil Tibbott and Kristiana Johnson for listening to citizen concerns.

  7. The legacies of our marshes are not ones we can afford to neglect if we are to spirit a cooperation with nature that will enhance the inherent beauty of our community for current and future citizens. We are not only servicing Edmonds but the surrounding areas and off shore marine life. The marshes provide drainage essential for absorbing storm water and buffering effects of runoff in the ocean. Edmonds should stand for doing what is right to restore a vibrant shoreline with opportunities for fish and crabbing and other marine life as well as putting more effort to restore the sanctuary this area has provided for birds and other animals. I hope you will agree this is worth far more then a new strip mall. More effort, not less, is needed to protect and improve our parks and wet lands as development continues to impinge on our shared ecosystems with significant deforestation all in and around where we live. So happy to live here where I like to think my neighbors and this community feel the same in these sentiments.

  8. Diane and Joe have made this more about the whole town getting the advantages of well planned and executed city government actions and not about one neighborhood fighting with another over scarce and expensive resources. That is very important I think.

    Other than getting rid of the warn out bleachers, I believe the Civic Park project was a big overreach and not really needed. The park was pretty decent just the way it was and could have at least been done much more incrementally. This has probably been an understandable thorn in the side of people not living in the more park rich environment of the Yost Park, Meadowdale and Bowl areas.

    I’d also like to see some sort of plan added to the PROS plan that might bring the people of the under park endowed areas to the parks for free or at least very cheap; and not so much try to bring the parks to the people there. You can’t move the Marsh, or the Salish Sea or the re-created Civic Park but you can figure out a way to move ALL the people to them that are needing and wanting to use them.

    We need public officials that look at the big picture, value CITIZEN activists and experts, and try to bring the various neighborhoods together, not rip them apart. This adversarial relationship between mayors and council members must stop. (Before it was covert and now it’s overt, but it has been true for years now). We are truly all in this together and we need to start acting like it. I make jokes and satire about it as a defense against it being so disheartening all the time. i cherish this city and I know the people I often tease and differ with here do to.

  9. To Edmonds City Council Members Thank you so much for your time and effort with the complex PROS plan. I have stayed up-to-date on the issues involved, including participating in the public hearing of late and reading all the commentary thus far. I fully support Diane Buckshniss’s thoughts about our need as a community to be proactive in protecting and enhancing our wild spaces, a term I prefer to “open spaces” as it makes it clear we are speaking not of parks but of spaces where Nature can thrive. It seems to me that pitting recreational space, (along with making sure there is park equity in all of Edmonds) against environmentally protected spaces is an unfortunate situation. As I understand it, Mercer Island keeps these projects separate and that seems so wise. We can do it all, yet in my view, the Edmonds Marsh and revitalizing our salmon streams is of utmost importance. There is a ticking clock right now. Once these places are further degraded or even destroyed the loss is immeasurable. In a time of global environmental crisis with evidence mounting daily of species lost for all time, how can we not take all the steps necessary to ensure the gifts we have within our borders are protected? Diane lays out the potential for receiving grants for Salmon recovery are available. We should also be gathering our resources now to purchase the UniCal property with the goal of creating a larger wild area and places for the public to come and enjoy it. What an amazing open space this will be for Edmonds! I appreciated the careful artist renderings for our new City Park. People respond to these visuals. How about getting some strong visuals produced so that the public can see what we can create for us now, for our children, for our children’s children, and for the creatures of our environment themselves. Finally, please do not rely on the survey with its statistically “valid” data. It seems to be a flawed tool that required a forced choice. Be wary of such tools!

  10. We have lost a great deal of salmon habitat in our local streams and should be actively seeking ways to restore some of that habitat whenever possible. One great example is Shell Creek. It is a spring fed creek originating in Yost Park and has excellent water quality (the water quality is regularly monitored by the Students Saving Salmon group). But there are a few obstructions in the creek that prevent fish from swimming upstream—over 1.5 miles of excellent habitat is now inaccessible to fish, including all of Shell Creek within Yost Park. This is a prime example of an issue that should be addressed in the pending PROS plan so the city can show salmon recovery is a priority in local streams such as Shell Creek and can proceed with requesting grant funding now available to tackle relatively small projects such as Shell Creek restoration. Imagine what a thrill it will be to see salmon moving upstream to spawn in Yost Park!

  11. During the last city council meeting a gentleman testified that a waterfall in the yard of a private residence is blocking the upstream movement of salmon in Shell Creek. I don’t recall the gentleman’s name. I also don’t know that the assertion is even true. The man stated that some sort of ponds could be created to allow the upstream passage of the salmon.

    I’m not accusing anyone of anything and I’m not big on the city messing around with private property rights too much, but if this waterfall is some sort of a man made structure designed for landscaping purposes that is artificially stopping a salmon run, there could be a violation of federal and/or state law taking place. If this is a natural waterfall that would be much different and would need a different approach to solve the alleged problem. There should be some kind of official investigation of that citizen’s assertion by state fish and game officials (biologists and law enforcement divisions).

  12. Clinton,

    It’s true. A fish ladder was built in around 1990, with Federal funds, under the road where Shell Creek flows down the street from where I live. Sometime after that, condominiums were built further downstream, along Shell Creek. My understanding is that the blockage was built when the condominiums were built, apparently approved by our Planning Department, despite the fact that just a few years earlier the fish ladder had been built to allow passage of salmon up Shell Creek to spawn.

  13. Amazing. Has anyone reported this to state or federal authorities? I suspect the salmon run there is not Chinook as the stream is pretty small, but it probably did have a wild run of CoHo at some time or other. If it ever had wild Chinook those folks could be in Federal trouble now I would think. I know there used to be sea run cutthroat in that stream as I saw them returning when I was in H.S. Those fish now have state protection from being sport harvested (to rebuild the runs), so that might be an avenue to get this crime against the environment corrected sooner or later. The commenter even said the fix could be free to the landowner with some sort of grants available. What a seeming no-brainer.

    1. Clinton,

      If blockage of passage at that location has documented approval by our Planning Department, one would think that responsibility lies with the city to remove the obstruction. A few years ago, our Planning Department also approved the building of a 3 story home, approx. 1500 sq.ft (so a small footprint) right next to the Shell Creek fish ladder and up against a steep slope. I don’t fault the property owners for the fact that our city approved building a home between a steep slope and a creek, contrary to our critical areas ordinance. I also don’t fault the developer who built the home.

      These examples point to even more urgency to integrate environmental goals in the PROS plan, as these goals should be in every aspect of our Comprehensive Plan, of which the PROS plan is a part.

      Council member Buckshnis said “if our PROS Plan has well thought-out environmental goals and approaches (actions), the city will have no problem obtaining the needed grant funds and assistance and it should place little burden on city resources” and this will prove even more critical as the rest of our Comprehensive Plan is updated. As others have said, it’s our responsibility to be stewards of the environment for future generations.

  14. Thank you Diane Buckshnis and Joe Scordino for your work to improve the PROS Plan and for recognizing and acknowledging citizen volunteers who lend a helping hand.

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