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Commission continues Falls Crossing debate
SNOQUALMIE The Wednesday, March 1 special meeting of
the Snoqualmie Planning Commission had only one item on the agenda
a cultural resources discussion relating to issues surrounding the
controversial Falls Crossing development proposal.
Although the forum did not include comments from the public,
representatives from the Snoqualmie Tribe, the Office of Archaeology
and Historic Preservation, Puget Western, and Larson Anthropological and
Archaeological Services presented findings and set forth their positions to
Officials from Puget Western are asking the city to approve a Mixed
Use Application permit for a 182-acre parcel of land adjacent to the
Snoqualmie Ridge project and situated one-quarter mile from the Salish Lodge
at Snoqualmie Falls.
If approved, the development would contain about 370
single-family and apartment dwellings, with an estimated population of more
than 900. Retail stores and office space would be located on about 25
acres near the intersection of Highway 202 and Snoqualmie Parkway, which is
the primary gateway to Snoqualmie's historical district.
At issue were Snoqualmie Tribe concerns about the proximity to
their Traditional Cultural Property, environmental effects of the development,
disturbance of ancestral artifacts and devaluing the integrity of
Snoqualmie Falls which is the traditional
spiritual center for the Tribe.
Dennis Lewarch, from Larson Anthropological and
Archeological Services, provided a condensed presentation of the testing done at the
site. Puget Western commissioned Lewarch to assess ethnographic
data following consultation with the Snoqualmie, Muckleshoot and
Field archaeologists sampled several sites in the development area
by digging 1-by-2 foot holes approximately 60 feet apart in what they
considered "high probability" areas for artifact recovery. They also did
limited sampling in low probability areas, and excluded some property
because of the dense vegetation.
Snoqualmie Tribe spokeswoman Lois Sweet-Dorman objected to
the testing method, noting that similar techniques failed to detect findings
at Tokul Creek, a major archeological site.
Overall, the archeological report contends that there is a low
probability of significant artifacts on the site. The study concludes that logging
in the 1890s and other ground disturbances might have eradicated
evidence of any potential findings.
Lewarch did recommend, however, that the boundaries of the
Traditional Cultural Property, which abut the north edge of the proposed
development, be extended to include a group of old cedar trees and
associated medicinal plants historically used by the Snoqualmie people.
Because Snoqualmie tribal history is an oral compilation passed
down through generations, much of the historical record is
undocumented. Though records were found showing an Indian trail across the
development site, tribal historians say the
grounds were used for hunting and camping, and the site was a major battleground.
In interviews with Larson archaeologists, a tribal historian stated
that there is at least one known burial site on the property, but is prohibited
by tradition and religious dictates from disclosing the location. Tribal
members have also said that the Snoqualmie people have
practiced subsistence and spiritual practices in the project area. While some
specifics of the practices were provided to archaeologists and fact-finders,
all parties agreed not to make them public.
The viewshed, or vegetative buffer that would block residential and
commercial view of the development from Snoqualmie Falls and the
surrounding grounds, is also an issue of major impact and heated debate.
Puget Western originally proposed a 100-foot buffer of trees that
would prevent Snoqualmie Falls visitors from seeing any buildings in the
project. State Historical Officer Dr. Allyson Brooks agreed that protecting the
integrity of the Falls is of primary importance.
Stating that he was not prepared to make a final response to
the commission's topographical plan, Puget Western attorney Thomas
Pors urged the commission to reconsider the developer's screening plan.
Puget Western's latest screening proposal included erecting a 3-foot berm,
with a 6-foot tall fence painted green to match the landscape. Six-foot
trees purchased from a nursery would be planted in front of the fence to
blend with the forest view from the Falls observation deck and walkway
areas. Pors said planned break points in the fence would allow for wildlife
travel through the area.
"You have a subjective assumption of visibility through loss of
vegetation," Pors told the commissioners. "The company has a problem
with that." He noted that wind blowdown of a vegetative buffer, fire and
vandalism should not be considered because they are not predictable events.
"Fencing and the trees screening it could easily be repaired or
replaced," Pors continued. He added that the
topographical buffer would reduce a significant amount of developable
land, and moving density to another area within the project to make up for
lost revenue would be prohibitive.
Following lengthy discussion, the commission remained
unpersuaded and unilaterally agreed to adopt the topographical version of
the viewscreen plan.
"Even though the project is above the Falls and outside the
Traditional Cultural Property designated area it should retain its setting, including
the landscape that surrounds it," Brooks said. "It would be like having a
farm that is historically important, but is located in the middle of a strip mall.
It has lost its integrity."
After touring the project area, Brooks recommended that lighting
be focused downward to reduce the potential for light pollution from the
development at Snoqualmie Falls observation areas.
With regards to tribal concerns, Pors stated that while the tribe and
the developers view the property differently, the court system separates
legal issues from traditional spiritual practices. Pors said that even though
the law is squarely on the side of private property owners, Puget Western
is committed to continued discussion and negotiations with the Tribe.
"This is not an easy process," he said, noting that there would have
to be sacrifices on both sides. "The balancing of interests is difficult for all."
Pors added that Puget Western will compare their project with others
in the region where cultural concerns are involved.
"This is a land of ordinances and laws," Sweet-Dorman
responded. "There is no room to discuss what
is right for this land. The Tribe wants to work with the city to protect the Falls."
All parties agreed that if the development plans are approved,
tribal monitors should be on-site in the event historical artifacts are unearthed.
If significant artifacts are found and a dispute arises, the developers and
the Tribe would be required by law to mediate through the state Office of
Archaeology and Historic Preservation, although the agency has no
authority to stop the project.
Puget Western and the Snoqualmie Tribe have agreed to continue to
meet in a good-faith effort to mitigate their concerns.
The commission also voted to reopen the public comment period.
Written comments only will be accepted from March 15 through the close
of the business day on March 24. They are asking that comments be
limited to new issues or changes that have occurred since the close of the
comment period in December.