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Three Forks plan finally approved
SEATTLE _ After five years of planning and controversy, the
Three Forks Natural Area Master Plan was finally approved last week, along
with David Irons' amendment that cuts approximately $4 million from
The 7-6 King County council vote resulted in limiting the number
of projects in the 418-acre park, located between North Bend and Snoqualmie.
Irons' plan will cost $978,684 and includes two parking lots, one
year-round restroom, trail improvements, interpretation signs and
re-vegetation of highly damaged areas.
"We want to proceed carefully with this incredible piece of land,
because it truly is a treasure," Irons said.
King County residents voted for the plan in the 1989 Open Space
and Parks Bond and the land was purchased shortly after that.
Irons, who is the county representative for the Upper Snoqualmie
Valley, proposed his budget-cutting amendment after meeting with
more than 80 of his constituents several weeks ago. Residents at the
gathering told Irons the original proposed improvements to the park would
adversely affect wildlife and habitat.
Planning for the project has taken more than a decade and has
spawned controversy among Valley residents and councilmembers.
Councilmember Larry Phillips, who represents county District 4
and chairs the Natural Resources Committee, is unhappy with the plan's
outcome for many reasons. In addition, Phillips had also created an
amendment for the Three Forks master plan, with a cost of $2.6 million.
"There's more to this story than meets the eye," Phillips said,
explaining that questionable politics were behind the passing of Irons'
amendment. He alleges that the revised plan was written "behind closed
doors" with no public hearing.
"There was a lot of dealing here that was not in the best interest of
the park and the people who voted for it," Phillips added.
Phillips also said Irons "traded votes" to get the amendment
passed, by agreeing to vote for other councilmembers' projects if they
voted for his. He named Maggi Fimia of District 1 and Chris Vance of
District 13 as participants in the vote trading.
Vance and Fimia said the accusations are untrue.
"Larry Phillips is a whiny, sore loser who is going way too far,"
Vance explained that he voted for Irons' amendment because the
Three Forks Natural Area is in Irons' district, and that he would know more
than Phillips about the project and what the area's residents want.
"I think people in the rural area are getting tired of the paternal,
know-it-all attitude shown by Seattle politicians like Larry Phillips,"
Irons said there was no vote trading or other "behind-the-scenes"
political bargaining. "Every position I took and I voted on is the exact
position I've held for weeks," Irons said.
"I'm shocked that he [Phillips] would make such an allegation
when Larry and I have worked very closely on the Three Forks amendments,
and I am personally offended that he would throw a verbal temper
tantrum when he lost the vote."
Irons said he believes the council should have listened to the
voters when they passed the original bond issue.
Maggi Fimia pointed out that when voters approved the bond, the cost
was listed as $284,000, in 1989 dollars, and the primary purpose of the
project was listed as wildlife protection. She found no reason why the
project should have grown to cost $5.2 million.
Fimia said she worked with Irons on the Three Forks project because
she was concerned about the natural area and had received many phone calls
and e-mails from residents who opposed the original master plan.
"I'm proud of what we did out there. It was financially prudent,
it provides for public access and it gets the community what they
wanted," Fimia added.
Phillips disagrees about what the public wants. He is opposed to
limiting public amenities because it restricts the area's use and makes it
difficult for people living outside the area to utilize the park.
"This is a classic bait and switch," he said. "The public votes to
purchase a park and the council votes to make it more difficult for the public to
use it. Taxpayers are not getting what they bargained for."
"I feel very strongly that I am responsible to the people who
elected me and that promises made are promises kept, and we have failed
that," Phillips added.
Phillips said that by passing this amendment, councilmembers
have given in to a group of neighboring residents who were opposed to
keeping the project in its original scope. He calls this "NIMBYism," or the
Art Skolnik, who lives directly across from the Natural Area,
said Phillips "has completely misrepresented the dozens of people who
live in this area and accused us of this `nimby' position, which is 100
Skolnik added that he has watched the number of animals in the area
decrease because humans are already using their migratory trails. He
said residents are just concerned about the wildlife and their habitat, not in
keeping people away.
Wenda Miller-Cassman, chair of the Three Forks Natural Area
Preservation Committee, said she and her group have fought hard to try to
protect the wildlife and land in the area.
"I'd like to see us go forward from here and make the most with the
improvements that are going to happen," she said. "My appreciation [goes]
to the council for finally taking a second look at the plan and re-evaluating
the scope of the original plan."
Last week's vote cannot be appealed, and improvements to the
land probably won't begin until at least next year. Each project must go through
the stages of development, including an Environmental Impact Statement,
with public involvement. A general maintenance budget will also have to
be drawn up and approved.
Irons' amendment states that future projects could be considered
once detailed studies are done to demonstrate that there will not be a
significant adverse environmental impact on the wildlife and natural areas