RBA idea at Joseph Whidbey State Park is ‘terrible,’ public says

It’s a good thing sticky notes were in abundant supply at the Coupeville Recreation Hall Monday night.

It’s a good thing sticky notes were in abundant supply at the Coupeville Recreation Hall Monday night.

Opponents of a proposal to develop parts of Joseph Whidbey State Park for private business put the notes to good use, providing a tall stack of reasons why they think the concept is a bad idea.

About 80 people came to the public meeting to voice their concerns to Washington State Parks staff, which scheduled the event to gather input over the controversial proposal to allow privately-financed recreational developments at Joseph Whidbey State Park.

Joseph Whidbey State Park, in Oak Harbor, is one of 10 state parks under consideration for such a plan and the only one in Island County. The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission adopted a strategy two years ago to expand the use of parks land holdings to try to generate more revenue for the state’s struggling parks system.

Joseph Whidbey State Park landed on the initial list of candidate sites that was revealed publicly in January, causing a tidal wave of concern for those who frequently visit the beachfront park on Whidbey Island’s west side.

The state agency hired consultants to examine each site’s potential. Under the proposal, 60 of the 206 total acres at Joseph Whidbey State Park could be used for possible development that could include up to 50 cabins, a lodge-type structure with food services and new day-use facilities as well as dry boat storage.

Those in attendance Monday night called the plan a bad fit for Joseph Whidbey State Park, pointing to its small size in relation to other state parks, its potential impact on wildlife and their habitat, including a pair of nesting bald eagles, and its close proximity to nearby residents as well as a Navy shooting range.

Their concerns were randomly expressed vocally and more formally in writing after State Parks planner Nikki Fields asked for the crowd to break into small groups and write down their thoughts to be read aloud and discussed later.

The points of emphasis centered around Recreation Business Activities, or RBAs, the term used for private recreation developments designed to provide amenities for park visitors, and the parks department’s real estate policy revision approved by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission last year that changed land classifications on state parks land to open the door to RBAs.

The public also shared their concerns on any other issues associated with the proposal and their recommended development restrictions.

The wall was covered with at least 75 sticky notes.

None endorsed the idea.

“I’m writing ‘terrible, terrible’ on every one of my notes … because the whole thing is terrible,” said Dianna Deseck Piazzon, a retired school teacher from Coupeville.

“I don’t care if they call it Recreational Business Activities, it’s privatizing our parks. There’s got to be some better way to increase our park revenue. Maybe we have to close the parks for a year or two and get our legislators to get on board and pass some taxes. There has to be a better way.”

The crowd also raised concerns over potential logging, increased traffic and other potential environmental impacts.

Parks staff was asked whether it was following the proper environmental review and necessary timeline required under the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA.

The staff will type up all the public’s notes scribbled down during Monday night’s exercise and furnish them for the State Parks Commission to review before approving the first round of candidate sites at its meeting May 19 in Moses Lake.

Public comment will still be accepted online in time for review on the department’s website through March 27.

Parks staff hopes to have its own recommendation for the commission by the end of April.

Rodger Schmitt, one of seven members on the commission, attended Monday night’s meeting and listened for himself the public reaction from Whidbey residents.

It was resoundingly opposed.

“It was not really unexpected,” said Peter Herzog, assistant director of parks development.

“I just don’t want to see it commercialized,” Coupeville resident Jill Hein said, echoing a popular sentiment.

Jon Crimmins, area manager for Central and South Whidbey state parks, also attended the meeting and answered various questions. Joseph Whidbey is one of the state parks he oversees.

He said residents’ passion for the park was clear.

“I was really excited to see so many people show up,” Crimmins said.

To provide public comment on private development consideration at Joseph Whidbey State Park, go to http://parks.state.wa.us/900/Real-Estate-Policy-Update


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