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County changes course on Oak Harbor expansion

Island County has reversed course and is now telling the city of Oak Harbor that a comprehensive environmental study will need to be conducted if the city wants to expand its urban growth area.

In a letter to the county's hearing examiner on Monday, Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate said the June hearing that challenged the county's earlier environmental review of the 105-acre growth area expansion should be cancelled because the county could not reach an agreement with Oak Harbor over a number of unresolved issues. As such, the county will order the preparation of an "environmental impact statement" on the proposal to expand the city's urban growth area.

The expansion had been opposed by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, the Swan Lake Preservation Group and others.

Those who had opposed the expansion as unnecessary urban sprawl heralded the county's decision Wednesday.

"WEAN looks forward to working with the county so the environmental impacts of the urban growth area expansion are fully studied," Steve Erickson, a WEAN spokesman, said in a statement to the press.

Erickson said the proposed expansion would expand the island's largest urban area onto 105 acres of active farmland on the southwest side of Oak Harbor above Swan Lake and create "significant environmental impacts." The 105 acres is part of the historic 377-acre Fakkema farm, and Erickson said the Fakkemas also want to add the entire farm property into the city's urban growth area so it can be developed with hundreds of homes.

Erickson noted the Fakkema farm drains into Swan Lake, an important site for migratory birds.

"Over one-fifth of all bird species that have ever been reported in the US have been seen at Swan Lake," Erickson said. "There will now be an opportunity for genuine and thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of turning open farmland above a sensitive coastal lagoon into a city."

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