Land Trust covets Deer Lagoon

"A huge wetland area once envisioned as a marina for boaters may be purchased by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust in a salmon recovery effort.The trust has its eye on 379 acres in Deer Lagoon owned by H&H Properties, which developed Useless Bay Colony overlooking Useless Bay.The original colony developer, Howard Sievers, died before he could develop a marina on the lagoon, and through the years, tightening environmental regulations made that idea impossible to pursue.Bill Sievers, one of Howard's sons, said the family is now willing to sell its acreage in Deer Lagoon to the Land Trust.It could be a wonderful thing, Sievers said last week. But it's out of our hands.In its natural state early last century, the lagoon encompassed 1,500 acres.Early settlers built dikes and changed the size and nature of the estuary, but it is still described by the Island County Salmon Recovery Program as the county's highest priority for immediate preservation.The Land Trust board met Monday night and decided to pursue grants to purchase the property, according to Cary Peterson, board president. A hoped-for grant from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board would go toward property acquisition. Another grant will be sought to fund ecological studies of the area and determine the best restoration plan. Island County is participating in the grant application process.There's a lot of public support for this project, said Peterson.That support was evident Sept. 6 when county representative Janet Kearsley and Trust Board members hosted a public meeting at Useless Bay Country Club. About 50 people attended, mostly area property owners who generally expressed support.Kearsley said salmon should be using Deer Lagoon as a resting and feeding habitat as they return from the ocean to spawn in major rivers that empty into Puget Sound.Dave Haworth said the board of the Useless Bay Colony voted to support the sale. Haworth has several personal irons in this fire. He is on the board of both the Land Trust and Useless Bay Colony, and he lives on Shore Avenue, where Deer Lagoon serves as a beautiful backyard to homes along the dike but also poses flooding problems from time to time.Restoration efforts could range from doing minimal work all the way to removing two existing dikes and building a new one to improve flood control and recreate the saltwater estuary the lagoon once was.Nature trails for public use are also possible, but all such plans are in the future and would be done with nearby property owners' concerns in mind. The first step is purchasing the property, Haworth said.Although the property is largely wetland, there is no assurance it can never be developed. Haworth said it includes several platted lots, and regulations could change in the future. New homes are being built on the east side of the marsh.There's no guarantee wetlands and buffer lands will provide protection forever, Haworth said. There are four new lots and houses going up now. The trust is negotiating with H&H Properties for a purchase price. Haworth said an appraisal pegs the price at $2.7 million but the final cost won't be that high. The price most certainly will not be that number, he said. There are all sorts of tax benefits available to the seller.The Land Trust is confident the purchase will be completed. The property will be purchased by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a news release states. "

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