Efforts progress to save stacks

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The smokestacks at the former Weyerhaeuser mill site have been on the Valley horizon since around 1917 when the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber company set up shop to harvest trees.

But all that nearly came to a thunderous crash this week as Weyerhaeuser had submitted, and been granted, permits to demolish the smokestacks, forever erasing a huge part of the Valley's history. Only through the diligent efforts of a former mill-town inhabitant, one stubborn (and opinionated) newspaper manager and a group of historical preservationists, along with some help from a King County agency, has the demolition been delayed and hopefully averted.

It all started when the former inhabitant came into my office and announced that the Valley's former largest employer was going to blow up the smokestacks and the date looked to be Aug. 11. I really had no idea how the permitting process worked so I called Julie Koler at King County's Landmarks and Heritage Program to find out if they had been listed in some historic way.

After some searching, Julie reported back that the smokestacks were on a historic resource list and that by law, a review of the site was required by the agency prior to the approval of a permit.

Julie said she was going to check with the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) to see if a permit had been issued. Further investigation by her agency found that, yes, a permit had been issued, but the law had not been followed regarding the review.

What is it about the chase that gets the adrenaline up and the senses wired, making the hunt for something like this so interesting? And in this case it was DDES, an agency that makes the rest of us follow the law to the letter. They had, in fact, not followed King County code.

So my next call was to DDES director Stephanie Warden. I asked her about the permit and she asked if she could get back to me. Within a few hours an apologetic call from DDES to the Landmarks and Heritage Program reinforced the fact that there was no compliance with the law requiring review of the historic resource listing of the smokestacks.

Calls went far and wide to other historic site preservationists in the Valley culminating in the realization that there is a chance to save the smokestacks for generations to come.

Consequently, the permit applicant has been asked to postpone demolition until after the site can be reviewed, giving preservationists time to possibly nominate the site for historical recognition and preserve the stacks forever.

But we are not out of the woods yet, the process of nomination has to happen quickly or Weyerhaeuser will forever erase the smokestack's existence.

The efforts of a few can go a long way toward moving mountains, or in this case, preserving smokestacks. The former mill town inhabitant can be credited with raising the red flag to get the rest of us on board, and Julie Koler, with the Landmarks and Heritage Program, was instrumental in helping steer the boat. It was a welcome encounter dealing with a county agency that truly was interested in their designated responsibility, not for political reasons but because it was the right thing to do.

If you feel strongly about saving the smokestacks, let's get the opinion page overflowing with comments. Submit letters to julie.koler@metrokc.gov in the Landmarks and Heritage Program and let Kathy Lambert know we want the smokestacks preserved.

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