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 project.

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 said.

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,"

Vance added.

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

not-in-my-back-yard" syndrome.

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

percent false."

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

being preserved.

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