Army Corps evidence closes out Exxon hearing

"Wetland experts say it is a wetland. The Army Corps of Engineers says it isn't. But by Jan. 15, developers and opponents of a proposed Freeland Exxon gas station, car wash, and convenience store will know if Mother Nature will win out over automotive convenience.Attorneys for the A-OOK development group and People for Reasonable and Organized Urban Development (PROUD) made the last of their arguments on the issue on Dec. 7 in Coupeville during the second and final continuance of a hearing before Island County Hearings Examiner Michael Bobbink. While much of the session was taken up with closing statements and the cross examination of witnesses who testified on previous dates, the A-OOK attorneys led by Elaine Spencer introduced one last piece of evidence that could help the developers. This was a Nov. 20 report from the Army Corps of Engineers which said that the Fish Road and Highway 525 property owned by A-OOK is not a wetland. David Bricklin, an attorney working for PROUD, said last week that the Army Corps report is not an accurate assessment of the A-OOK property. He said the Corps surveyed the property this fall during one of the longest autumn dry spells South Whidbey has experienced in years. To come up with a proper judgement, Bricklin said, the Corps should return to the property at the start of the growing season.We don't think (the report) has a lot of merit, he said.Neither Bricklin nor PROUD member Jerry Hill could say whether Bobbink's decision would go their way. No matter what Bobbink decides, Bricklin said, the issue has a good chance to move on to Island County Superior Court at a future date.Mick Olsen, the lead partner in the A-OOK group, said it was important for the Army Corps evidence to come along when it did. We were very fortunate to get that, he said.Olsen said he is anxious to hear Bobbink's decision. He said he thinks the decision should go his way.Most experts can tell by existing plant life and conditions whether it's a wetland, he said.Bobbink allowed both sides until Dec. 15 to bring any additional documentation to the hearing record. The attorneys then have until Dec. 22 to submit their written closing arguments. Bobbink's decision could come as late as Jan. 15. "

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