Report: Sprawl threatens foothills

SEATTLE _ A report released last week by the non-profit

environmental coalition 1000 Friends of Washington ranks the foothills of the

Cascade Mountains as one of the most endangered areas in the state due to

a growing population and increased development.

The report listed the top 10 threatened areas in Washington,

from Roslyn, to Lake Whatcom, Mount Rainier National Park to the

Little Spokane River.

It is the second time 1000 Friends, which is headquartered in Seattle,

has published the report. Aaron Ostrom, executive director of 1000

Friends, said the organization spent months researching and putting the

report together. He said staffers talked to planners, activists, elected

officials and developers in gathering material for the report.

For the areas making the list, 1000 Friends looked at several

factors, including: the immediacy of the threat, the overall growth rate, the

public interest, scenic quality and opportunity for change.

In the introduction to its report, the organization says that while

progress has been made in controlling development, more work needs to

be done.

"While Washington has made great strides in curbing sprawl

since the passage of the [state Growth Management Act], some of the

state's most treasured places continue to be endangered by ill-conceived

growth," the report states.

"After 10 years of experience under GMA, it is time for a new set

of smart-growth reforms that focus infrastructure spending in

existing communities and remove loopholes that allow urban development in

rural lands."

Ostrom said that providing a list of the most endangered areas,

helps bring the sometimes dry debate about growth management a little closer

to home for state residents.

"This state's got serious problems with sprawl and

overdevelopment, and sometimes it helps to put a

little more personal face on it," he said.

The Cascade foothills made the list because more people are moving

to the Puget Sound region, specifically east of Seattle. According to the

report, the foothills extending through King and Snohomish counties have

added more than 300,000 residents in 10 years.

In 1990, the King County population in the Cascade

foothills was 1,507,305. In 10 years, it has increased to 1,685,600, a jump

of 11.83 percent. In Snohomish County, the increase has been even

more dramatic, rising from a population of 465,628 in 1990 to 593,500 in

2000, an increase of 27.46 percent.

"[The Cascade foothills are] bearing the brunt of

sprawl development … it's heading east up into the foothills," Ostrom said.

The 1000 Friends report states, "The explosive growth of

King County's eastside is fueling the invasion of housing into the

Cascades and threatening to destroy the very qualities that attracted most of

the area's residents to the Pacific Northwest."

According to the report, the most pressing danger is large

developments and master-planned communities like the 1,342-acre Snoqualmie

Ridge development.

"The Cascade foothills are being chopped up into 20-, 40- and 80

acre tracts that are ripe for large-lot, residential development. When

the ownership patterns within forest lands become fragmented, they have a

much higher chance of being converted to residential uses," the report says.

The report also claims that Weyerhaeuser is planning the

second phase of expansion on Snoqualmie Ridge. However, last year

Snoqualmie city officials denied Weyerhaeuser's request to expand the development

by 800 acres as part of the development's proposed Phase 2, which lies

outside the city's growth area.

"It's a very good example of what's happening in the

foothills," Ostrom said of Snoqualmie Ridge. "It's a very large development

outside the urban growth boundary."

Jodi Slavik, legal counsel for the Olympia-based Building

Industry Association of Washington, said developers are being unfairly

singled out in the report. She said the Growth Management Act is comprised

of many goals, including economic development and affordable

housing, as well as protecting the environment. But one goal shouldn't be

favored over another.

"I think the industry gets the brunt of the criticism because we are an

easy target," she said. The demand for new housing outside urban areas exists,

she added, because the cost of living in a city like Seattle is too high for

most families.

"These projects represent the local governments trying to balance

the various goals of the GMA," Slavik said.

To protect the Cascade foothills, 1000 Friends says the King

County Comprehensive Plan needs changes. The Metropolitan King

County Council is currently reviewing the plan, and is considering expanding it

to prohibit "housing development on new lots created within

lands designated for long-term forest use," the report states.

1000 Friends also suggests maintaining forest in the foothills

"by taking advantage of their money-making potential."

"Investors" would purchase tax-exempt bonds, or partner with

others, to buy forested areas. They would receive a part of the profits

from sustainable timber sales, and "the harvesting would be done

according to the strictest environmental standards, with wider buffers

around streams, conservative road building and other sustainable methods."

Ostrom said if something isn't done soon to address

development issues, not only will the state lose forested land, it will lose

something much more precious.

"It's kind of a part of the Washington heritage that you can

go out of town and check out the forests and the mountains," he said.

"To protect these places and protect our quality of life, we have

to strengthen our efforts to manage growth."

The nine other areas of the state on the list of most endangered

places include:

· Roslyn, Wash. _ threatened by a large, resort-style

development and growth along Interstate 90.

· Lake Whatcom _ threatened by polluted storm runoff

and urbanization within the watershed.

· Bellevue Transit Center _ has experienced a 136 percent

increase in ridership since 1996, but funding is threatened by Initiative 745.

· Mount Rainier National Park _ threatened by a proposed

upscale resort that would change the character of the community and displace

elk herds.

· Hood Canal _ threatened by soil erosion due to development

along the canal, which also destroys salmon and marine habitat.

· The Skagit Valley _ threatened by development along

the I-5 corridor, which could harm fertile farmland.

· The Little Spokane River _ threatened by shoreline

development and the demand for water by an increasing population.

· Salmon Creek _ located near the fastest growing county in the

state, Clark County. Threatened by sprawl development that threatens

water levels, water quality and salmon runs.

· Tri-Cities foothills _ traditional rural farms and ranches

are threatened by sprawl development.

To read the full report, go tothe 1000 Friends Web site


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