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County revises its environmental review of Camp Casey proposal

Seattle Pacific University is seeking the county’s approval to further develop Camp Casey near Coupeville. The current plan includes 40 cabins, an educational center and a chapel. - Spencer Webster / Record file
Seattle Pacific University is seeking the county’s approval to further develop Camp Casey near Coupeville. The current plan includes 40 cabins, an educational center and a chapel.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / Record file

Seattle Pacific University has more work to do to pass muster with the county on its development plans for Camp Casey.

That is what county planners have told the university when it recently reissued its environmental review of the project. The county added new conditions to lessen potential impacts of development at Camp Casey after an appeal was filed by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network and comments were received from the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, a planning official said.

“We reviewed the comment letters and incorporated... new conditions or revised conditions that attempt to address the comments that we got,” said Jeff Tate, director of the county’s planning department.

In early April, WEAN appealed the county’s environmental review of the expansion proposal.

In its appeal letter, WEAN expressed concern about the development’s impacts to a 25-acre “Heritage Forest,” the handling of surface water run-off and the use of unauthorized trails within the forested acreage.

County planners have since changed how development at the property - an iconic and largely preserved landscape of Whidbey’s post-pioneer past - can proceed under the university’s master plan for Camp Casey. University officials have repeatedly said new facilities need to be built on the property so it can become financially self-sustaining. The plan includes six new retreat buildings, 40 cabins, an educational center and a chapel.

Many of the conditions cover what can be done in the “Heritage Forest” that straddles the boundary of Camp Casey.

Before the university is allowed to cut any tree at or larger than 24 inches in diameter (at breast height) located within 150 feet of the “Heritage Forest” boundary that pose a danger to structures, parking lots, roads and places where people assemble, the university must revise the forest management plan to include an arborist’s report and get county approval.

The county also said the forest management plan must be modified to identify methods to reduce and eliminate access to informal trails.

In a letter to the county, the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve expressed its hopes that new development at Camp Casey would follow sustainable methods for construction.

“In our discussions with Seattle Pacific University, we have encouraged them to implement the Camp Casey Master Plan through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program,” the trust board wrote. “In these discussions, SPU has consistently expressed their overall support to sustainable development. We continue to strongly encourage SPU to formally commit to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental process for Camp Casey.”

To answer the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve’s request, the county will require detailed descriptions of how sustainable building practices and standards have been considered in the design of proposed facilities.

“There are a couple of phases of review,” Tate said. “And the first phase is what we’re doing right now, which is evaluating the environmental impact of the proposal.”

Tate also clarified that there were two aspects of proposal review, the environmental evaluation and then the land-use portion.

Non-environmental issues will be discussed with the county’s planning commission, Tate said.

Groundwater, surface water, forest and habitat are Tate’s major concerns in the environmental review.

“These are the key points we are focusing in on. We’re looking at everything, but those are the biggest issues,” he said.

“When the environmental review is done, we’ll start engaging the planning commission. The commission will ask ‘Is this an appropriate use in this county?’” Tate explained.

The planning department will be meeting with the commission next week. Public hearings are expected later this month.

Steve Erickson of WEAN declined to comment on the county’s review. He said he hadn’t yet reviewed it Monday

afternoon.

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