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Irons wants to cut $4 million from Three Forks plan

SEATTLE _ King County Councilman David Irons has proposed

an amendment that limits development in the controversial Three Forks

Natural Area and shaves more than $4 million from the project's price tag.

Council members were scheduled to vote on the master plan on April

24, but Irons' amendment halted the decision.

Three Forks is a 418-acre county-owned lot located between

North Bend and Snoqualmie, where the Snoqualmie River's three forks

meet. The original plan aimed at creating a public-use park and wildlife

preserve at a cost of $5.2 million.

The project has been in the planning stages since 1993 and a

council vote has been postponed several times, with the latest delay caused by

the amendment. Irons said he hopes other council members will decide to

accept the amendment in place of the original version. He added that he

crafted it in response to community concern over the project's cost and

potential impact on the environment.

At least 80 Valley residents and members of the Three Forks

Natural Area Preservation Committee addressed their concerns to Irons at

a meeting held last month at QFC in North Bend. Residents who

attended the forum questioned how $5.2 million of improvements would keep

the area "natural."

"I saw people that were passionate about the quality of wildlife

and the environment," Irons said.

"That's why I took on this battle. It was the right battle to fight, to protect the

environment and protect wildlife."

Art Skolnik, who owns property across the street from the

proposed park, said he was pleased that Irons initiated an amendment that

reflected the concerns of the residents.

"This proposal put forth by David Irons Jr. goes a long way toward what we

have been saying, and achieves the goal that we've wanted, which is preserving

the habitat as first priority," Skolnik said.

Irons agreed with the residents and questioned how the project grew

from a $284,000 local park to a $5 million regional park that would attract

more visitors, which in turn, could potentially harm the environment.

"My vision and the vision of the people who voted on this park was

that it would be a small local park. Who said it had to be a big regional

park?" he explained, adding that many council members still want to approve

the original project instead of the amended version.

Irons said it makes no sense for the project to go forward without

the amendment, which will replace a portion of the master plan with a

smaller list of improvements. The amendment's projects will

total $978,684 _ which saves approximately $4 million.

The new project list includes:

• Parking lots, seasonal restrooms and landscaping at the old North

Fork School and Vista Point sites;

• Install interpretation signs on North Fork Loop trail;

• Create a pedestrian and equestrian trail on Reinig Road;

• Re-vegetate the most highly-damaged areas and wildlife

corridor in hay production area; and

• Install boundary emblems and gateway signs in the park.

County Councilman Larry Phillips said he supports Irons' efforts to

cut the project's budget, but wants residents to remember that voters

approved this project in 1989. The King County open space bond listed

the Three Forks Natural Area as one of many parks that taxpayer

money would develop for public use.

Phillips, who is chair of the county's Natural Resources, Parks

and Open Space Committee, said that it would be deceitful to taxpayers if

the plans for the natural area were altered dramatically.

"Voters and taxpayers voted on Three Forks Natural Area because

they knew it would be a natural preserve but also because they would be

able to go there," he said. "So I want

to make sure that the master plan is consistent with what we told the

voters they were getting with the bond."

Phillips is currently working on a counter-amendment that would

be similar to Irons' proposal, he said. Phillips' version will cut the

original $5.2 budget in half, but will still include most of the priority projects

the voters approved. He added that if taxpayers are paying for a public

park, then it needs to have restrooms and safe parking areas.

"We will honor the will of the people and preserve this natural

area, but allow the public to know where that area is. And when they get

there, they will have a safe and healthful visit," he said.

In response to residents' allegations of this project harming

wildlife or habitat, Phillips said his amendment would require environmental

studies to be done if any additional phases are developed.

"No one in King County is more concerned about the preservation

of wildlife and habitat than I am. But if you live in the county, you should

be able to visit this natural area," he said.

"I am chair of the natural resources committee for a reason,"

Phillips added.

The King County Council is scheduled to discuss the issue on

May 8. Irons said that residents who want to comment on the original plan or

the amendment should call council members at (206) 296-1000 or e-mail

them at www.metrokc.gov/mkcc.

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