Oak Harbor, Camano conservation projects vie for funds

A process is under way to decide which conservation projects in Island County get funded this year.

At stake are five projects -- more than in from recent years -- that have to go through a winnowing process that finishes with the final selection by the Board of Island County Commissioners, who control the Conservation Futures Fund.

In Oak Harbor, the city wants a total of $210,000 to purchase marshland near Heller and Crosby Road, and land on Scenic Heights Road for a trailhead.

"The trailhead helps complete the Waterfront Trail and increases public access," said Robert Voigt, senior planner for the city of Oak Harbor.

The county receives approximately $440,000 annually in conservation funds through a tax of 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on homes. The fund now totals about $600,000.

Voigt added that the trailhead is the higher priority of the two Oak Harbor projects because the property is currently on the market and is big enough to build one house.

"The things that make it a great trailhead site makes it a great residential site," Voigt said.

The city has an eye toward the future in its desire to purchase marshland near Heller and Crosby roads. Preserving the marsh jibes with the city's long-term plans to keep the wetland and put in several hiking trails and interpretive signing to promote passive recreation and education.

The city is asking for $150,000 from the conservation program to purchase the 36-acre wetland.

The marsh is adjacent to the city's current Urban Growth Area. Voigt said the city wants the property to help guarantee open natural areas as the UGA expands in the next 40 to 50 years.

The county is considering funding three other projects on Camano Island this year.

Island County itself wants $125,000 to purchase 300 feet of beach property at Utsalady Bay to improve access.

The Friends of Camano Island Parks and the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust want conservation funds to help finance two projects this year. They applied to receive $225,000 to buy and protect the Davis Slough heron rookery, which is home to 188 nests. According to the program application, the rookery is one of the largest in Washington state. The total purchase price for the property is $510,000. The remainder of the money would be raised through private donations.

The project calls for the purchase of a conservation easement and properties adjacent to the rookery to provide an adequate buffer.

A lower priority for the two groups is the purchase of a conservation easement on 40 acres of beaver marsh on Camano's Kristoferson Creek.

The purchase would preserve wildlife habitat and educational opportunities, according to the application.

In the next couple of months the five proposals go through the approval process.

The recommendations of a technical committee on the projects will be forwarded to a residents' advisory group, which will hold two meetings to help gauge public sentiment for each project.

The county commissioners have final approval on the recommendations.

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