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Hearings examiner gives Freeland Exxon go-ahead

"Developers planning to build a gas station complex in Freeland got the green light from Island County Hearings Examiner Michael Bobbink Thursday when he announced his decision that the site on which it will be built is not a wetland.In a 31-page decision, Bobbink stated that the 2.73-acre site at the intersection of Fish Road and Highway 525 has not been a wetland for at least 30 years. He also wrote that increased traffic associated with the 6,000-square-foot retail building, 2,852-square-foot auto service center with enclosed car wash, 3,142-square-foot convenience retail store, and 10-pump, covered Exxon gas station to be built on the site will not overload roads or intersections in the area.The decision comes after the project's developers, A-OOK Corner Properties, and members of Freeland's People for Reasonable, Organized Urban Development (PROUD) argued over the natural characteristics of the Exxon site in three days of hearings last December.Bobbink wrote in his decision that while the site may have been a wetland decades ago, it has been used as a hayfield for more than 30 years. He noted that the site is surrounded by wetlands, but drainage measures on the Exxon property have kept it dry for years. The existence of wetland plants on the site -- which was noted by experts hired by PROUD -- was coincidental.There is no credible evidence which would support a conclusion that any significant area of the subject parcel has been dominated by wetland species in the last 30 years, he wrote. The alteration of this site fromwetland to non-wetland occurred at least four to five decades ago.A-OOK partner Mick Olsen said he was pleased with Bobbink's decision. He said he was not sure which way the decision would go.I feel really good about it, he said. In his findings of fact, Bobbink shot down several more PROUD arguments. He said recent road work done by the state Department of Transportation at the Fish Road-Highway 525 intersection coupled with $80,000 in traffic mitigation fees to be paid by A-OOK will keep an increased traffic load in the area manageable. He also upheld drainage work done on the site during the past decade as having being legal.Olsen said he does not know when he can start construction on the A-OOK property. He said PROUD has 21 days to appeal Bobbink's decision. An appeal would go to Island County Superior Court.Speaking for PROUD, Freeland's John Shinneman said the group had not had a chance as of Friday to review Bobbink's decision and could not offer an analysis. "

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