"Bulldozers start, then stop on Exxon project"
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:29 PM
"With a freshly-approved development permit in his hand, Freeland developer Mick Olsen set the earthmovers and tractors rolling Tuesday morning at the corner of Fish Road and Highway 525. After almost two years of waiting, Olsen had finally begun to build the gas station and car wash complex into which he and several other local investors have put a great deal of planning and money.But by 10 a.m., Olsen had to tell his heavy equipment operators to lift their blades and scoops and drive away from what has become the most disputed piece of ground on South Whidbey.For months, the conflict between the Exxon developers and a group of local slow-growth advocates has resembled more a boxing match than organized community planning. With Island County playing referee Tuesday, it appeared that People for Responsible Organized Urban Development (PROUD) scored a staggering left hook in the third or fourth round. Jerry Hill, a member of PROUD, filed a $60 appeal of the Exxon permit at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, forcing Island County to issue a stop-work order. Within 90 minutes, work did stop.Olsen, who was at his property to watch workers and machinery leave for the day, said he was not pleased to get the stop work order. He said the appeal listed no pressing reason to stop work, but it was nonetheless enforced.They should have to file a reason, Olsen said. I have a problem with that. While the appeal was filed at the Island County Courthouse, several interested observers gathered at the proposed gas station site. PROUD member Alethea Shinneman was on site while the tractors rolled, noting the activity.We are observing every move they make, Shinneman said of the developers. The public is watching.'By 11 a.m., however, no one was watching. Both developers and their opponents had left the disputed corner. It will be at least 14 days before anyone returns to the land in earnest. That is the standard waiting period after an appeal is filed on a development project. Olsen said it could be more than 30 days before he and his workers return, since he will have to go before the Island County Hearings Examiner to fight the appeal before he can start work again.Olsen said he was not surprised by the appeal. He was, however, disappointed that it was so easy for PROUD to force him to stop working.Everybody has a right to their beliefs, Olsen said.Olsen's permit is for site work only. He does not yet have a building permit that will allow him to erect a gas station and a planned, adjacent shopping area.Opponents are fighting the project on environmental grounds. Some say it is a wetland. "