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County to pay some drainage costs in clearcut

"A recent clearcut in the Fox Spit Road area will require Island County to spend an unknown amount of money to protect bluff and beachfront homes in the cut's drainage path.In December, G&G Timber, a Bellingham logging company, clearcut about 40 acres of forest land sandwiched between Saratoga and Fox Spit roads north of Langley. Although the tree harvest was supervised and approved by both the state Department of Natural Resources and Island County, the newly-bared land will no longer stop stormwater runoff as it did before, placing dozens of Whidbey Shores homes at risk for landslide damage.Whidbey Shores residents, Island County, and G&G owner Gordon Iverson are now working together to design and build a drainage system that will prevent runoff from causing a slide. Lew Legat, Island County engineer, said Monday that the county is still in preliminary talks with Iverson and Whidbey Shores. He said his department planned to work on the area's drainage system eventually, but the clearcut forced the county's hand.We're looking at a good opportunity to do something about an existing problem, Legat said.At present, Legat said, he does not know how much the work will cost. County taxpayers will pony up for the engineering and materials necessary to do the job, while Iverson will pay to have the system installed. The Whidbey Shores Homeowner Association will provide easements for the system and will maintain it. Legat said he expects to start work on the system by March.Though the threat of a runoff-induced landslide may loom in the interim in the minds of some people living in the neighborhood, some Fox Spit and Whidbey Shores residents are pleased with the cut. Sandie Gitchell said the front of her home has been bathed in sunlight every day since the trees came down.I'm delighted because it lets in so much light, Gitchell said.Pat Loveless, a member of the Whidbey Shores Homeowners Association board, said the extra light reaches even his home, which is at the base of a steep, 50-foot bluff.The benefit is that we get a lot more sun, he said.But both Gitchell and Loveless realize the loss of the trees means an increased chance of a catastrophic landslide. In 1996, when the trees were still in place, a slide on the Whidbey Shores bluff destroyed one beach house. With this disaster in mind, the Whidbey Shores board met with Iverson and members of the Island County Planning Department in early December to find out what could be done to stop future runoff problems.Our primary concern was the increased surface water drainage, Loveless said.Iverson and the county agreed to work together to increase the size and effectiveness of an existing bluff drainage system. He said the county has agreed to do the engineering work and to pay for the materials to augment the drainage system. He said he will pay to have the new pieces installed in the system.While paying for the work will cut into the money he made from the sale of his trees, Iverson said a better drainage system will benefit him as well as Whidbey Shores residents.I don't want my property to wash away, he said. Iverson said he did take some preventive measures to reduce runoff from the clearcut. In areas where heavy ground machinery would have damaged steep slopes, his company used overhead cables to remove cut trees. Tree cutters also left stumps, branches, and other small cuttings in place to keep the soil covered. As early as next month, C&G will come back to start replanting the land with Douglas fir trees, a task Iverson said will keep the land viable for future harvests.Legat said he expects his department to sign an engineering contract with Oak Harbor's Fakema-Kingma sometime this week. The firm has engineered other drainage systems for the county in the Saratoga Road area. "

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