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

the commission.

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

Tulalip tribes.

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.

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