Gas station site may be Freeland wetland

"Concerned about the possible adverse traffic and environmental effects a proposed gas station and quick lube complex could have if built at the intersection of Freeland's Fish Road and Highway 525, about 30 South Whidbey residents turned out Wednesday night to learn more about the project during a community forum.Sponsored by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, the forum focused on an application submitted to Island County by developers Mick Olsen, Terry Otey, and Gordon Koetje for a project dubbed Freeland Exxon. As described in the application, the project consists of a 3,500 square foot convenience store, a car wash, a quick lube business, and 6,000 square feet of additional retail space.WEAN activist Marianne Edain led the discussion, giving those gathered in a meeting room at the old Trinity Lutheran Church an overview of the documents contained in the application file. Edain called particular attention to the fact that there is some dispute between the county, the state Department of Transportation, and the developers over whether or not the proposed development site is a wetland. Clearly, she maintained, the perennially soggy site is a wetland, even though the Island County Planning Department recently proclaimed that it is not.If you can swim in it, it's probably a wetland, Edain said.Several people attending the forum stated that the site has always been a wetland, even encompassing the Highway 525/Fish Rd. intersection as recently as 50 years ago. When Edain said that some documents in her file stated that the wetland was created when the state began channeling highway drainage onto the land, two women at the forum said that was not true.Baloney, they said simultaneously.Also of concern is how the project might relate to another Koetje-Otey project down the road and what that may mean when either project comes up for an environmental review. According to Mick Olsen, about 14,000 cubic yards of fill will be needed for the project. At the same time, 22,000 yards of soil must be removed from the mini-storage site to provide appropriate site distance for an access road to the mini-storage. Edain said she learned this during a conversation with the Island County planner handling the permit. She said that same planner told her that material might well be used at the Freeland Exxon site.Should that turn out to be the case, said WEAN activist Steve Erickson, both projects may have to be linked during an environmental review.Another issue that will also be of concern to local residents will be the projected traffic increase related to the Freeland Exxon. A traffic survey in the project's application file states that the number of cars turning onto Fish Rd. will more than double if the project is built, topping out at 177 cars per hour.Because of the increased traffic at the intersection, the developers will probably have to pay for some road improvements if the project is allowed to proceed. An Island County traffic consultant, whose opinion is included in the Freeland Exxon file, indicates that the developers will have to pay 1.5 percent all costs to improve the Highway 525/Bush Point Rd./Honeymoon Bay Rd. intersection, along with 2.2 percent of improvements at Scott and Fish roads. This summer, the state Department of Transportation will install new stoplights at the Fish Rd. intersection for a projected cost of $1.6 million. Based on that figure, the developers would pony up $35,000 for Fish Rd. alone.Edain and Erickson said those concerned about the project should get their comments to Island County.They need to know the people in Freeland are not real thrilled with this project, Edain said.If you think it's just ugly and it's sprawl, you should say so, Erickson said.At present, no permits have been issued for work on the Freeland Exxon project.Mick Olsen was the only member of the Freeland Exxon partnership to attend the meeting. His only comment during the forum came in regard to work the state DOT was doing on the land earlier in the week. He said the work was related to the DOT's upcoming stoplight project at Fish Rd.To comment on the project, address correspondence to Pete Sybert at the Island County Community Development Department. The address is P.O. Box 5000, Coupeville WA 98239. Commentary may also be sent to the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee. The committee receives mail at the same address as Island County. Reference the project's permit number, CGP 478-99."

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