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State agencies weigh in

SNOQUALMIE _ With a three-page letter to Snoqualmie

Planning Director Nancy Tucker and members of the city's planning commission,

the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has made

its official feelings known about the proposed Falls Crossing development.

Or has it?

The letter, dated Jan. 14 and signed by Area Habitat Biologist

Carol Bordin, bluntly states that the agency opposes the development. Bordin

recommended the site instead be set aside for the "protection and survival of

our fish and wildlife species."

However, according to Puget Western attorney Tom Pors _ who

responded to the letter at the Monday, Jan. 24 meeting of the

Snoqualmie Planning Commission _ Bordin was not qualified and not authorized

to release the letter in the first place.

The attorney said he'd talked to Bordin's supervisor, Regional

Habitat Program Manager Ted Muller. Pors subsequently referred to Bordin

as being "at a fairly low level of employment in the agency … the fact that

this is on departmental stationary does not reflect the department's position."

Bordin registered several concerns about the development's possible

impact on its surroundings, including threatened and endangered

species, habitat protection and water quality/runoff issues. Specifically, the

biologist stated the development is located in an area of "critical and priority

habitats" used by several endangered and threatened species of birds and fish.

"It becomes clear that several species of fish and wildlife are

dependent on the habitat in and around the proposed development of Falls

Crossing," she continued, "and, even though

this project has merit, I am highly recommending that this project should

be considered for a different location other than its currently proposed

location. We do not approve the proposed project in its present location."

Bordin pointed out that WDFW standards call for a 250-foot buffer

for the Snoqualmie River and 200-foot buffer for Kimball Creek, adding

the development's proposed 100- and 50-foot setbacks for the respective

waterways do not "meet this criteria."

In addition, she called into question the Falls Crossing trail system,

the planned Neighborhood Park, the stormwater drainage plan

and viewshed issues.

"Again, I would like to reiterate that our agency does not support

this development in this location," she summarized, "and we recommend

the land be set aside for the protection and survival of our fish and wildlife

species."

Pors was the only person to respond to the letter during

Monday's meeting, and he used his time to dissect Bordin's arguments. He

repeatedly referred to her conclusions as "inconsistent" and said that even

Bordin's supervisor, Regional Habitat Program Manager Ted Muller, had referred

to the letter as "unfortunate."

"However, they don't issue retractions either," the attorney

added. "That's just something they don't do."

Specifically addressing the letter's comments, Pors stated the agency

appeared to have a problem with obtaining and circulating the proper

documents, adding Bordin apparently did not review all of the studies.

He pointed out that peregrine falcons _ mentioned in the letter _ were

removed from the federal endangered species list. Upon questioning, Pors

admitted the bird was still on the state list, but was eligible for "de-listing."

As for the issue of setbacks from the Snoqualmie River and

Kimball Creek, Pors said, "Here she simply

had her facts wrong.

"We are in compliance. We're putting in more than 250 feet from

the river and 250 feet from Kimball Creek. She thought there would be only a

50-foot setback, which indicates she didn't review the documentation

very well."

He added that Bordin failed to mention that about 60 percent of

the site would be left in timbered open space.

According to the Falls Crossing Final Environmental Impact

Statement (FEIS) of April 1999, 88.03 acres of the 181.96-acre site would be

retained as parks, wetlands, steep slopes and open space. That translates into

approximately 48.4 percent of the total acreage. Adding 6.19 acres of

property designated for a conservancy zone and public/historic use increases

the total to 51.8 percent.

"Water quality is addressed in the master drainage program," Pors

continued. "She seems to be of the conclusion that Kimball Creek is

being separated from the wetlands. I kind of scratched my head over that,

wondering how she came to that conclusion.

"As for the viewshed, that was a personal comment [on her part].

Fish and Wildlife has no expertise or oversight in this area or in the area of

cultural resources."

"I think it's unfortunate that someone in a state agency can write a

letter like this without proper authority," planning commission member

Duane Johnson said. "She's also sent copies to what, 15 agencies? What

happens when letters like this get to these agencies? Do they believe it?"

"Typically, no," responded Pors. "This is a quasi-judicial

proceeding and these agencies realize that. Her comments were out of place."

"The letter that I wrote was just basically commenting on the nature

of the project," Bordin stated Tuesday morning. "Basically, it was just a

recommendation, with comments on this particular project and a

recommendation that it might be better located

elsewhere."

The biologist said Dec. 10 was the first day she'd learned of the

project and she immediately requested an extension on the public comment

period in order to more adequately address her concerns over Falls Crossing.

The planning commission denied her request.

"They said a wildlife biologist had looked at the project, but a

fisheries person should look at it also,"

Bordin continued. "We'd like to protect the fish and their habitat; those are

the concerns. You have to look at the whole realm of habitats. That's

what we're here for."

Muller, the regional habitat program manager, stated part of the

problem was due to bad or "obsolete information."

"She's been on nine months with the department," Muller said. "She

has my authorization to review and respond to SEPA (State

Environmental Policy Act) documents on her own.

"She was authorized to write the letter concerning the

department's views, and she would've done quite well, except we were given bad

information.

"We haven't been plugged into this project," Muller continued. "We

finally got _ some citizen provided her with a copy of the FEIS, but

apparently this project has changed considerably. She based her comments _

I'd guess you'd say _ on obsolete information."

When asked to confirm that Fish and Wildlife had no approval

authority for development projects, Muller said, "Under the SEPA

regulations we're given the opportunity to respond with recommendations or

suggestions on how they might mitigate impacts. We try to make it a rule to not

oppose or support a project per se.

"I'm not going to make any further comment on it," he

concluded. "We probably shouldn't have got involved in the first place, but

some people out there are very insistent.

"They kind of suckered her in. She wrote a support letter with her

views and that was probably not a good idea."

Adding to the mix, another state agency checked in in December

with its own concerns about Falls Crossing. In her own letter Dr.

Allyson Brooks, the state historic preservation officer, noted the development

would be next to "one of the most significant historic properties in the State

of Washington.

"Snoqualmie Falls is listed on the National Register of Historic

Places," Brooks continued. "It is the first

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