June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:39 PM
"It's not too late to set Lolita freeThis year marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous Penn Cove round-up of orca whales, which constituted one of the saddest chapters in Northwest history. For the sake of profit, the late Ted Griffin led a crew that forced a pod of orca whales into the Central Whidbey cove where they could be captured. Wally Funk, former publisher of The Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, and his camera skillfully chronicled the event for history.What we have left, besides the pictures, is one whale that goes by the name of Lolita. Just a baby when she was captured that day in Penn Cove, Lolita has spent the intervening years in captivity, most recently in something called the Seaquarium in Miami, Florida.Efforts to free Lolita have been under way for several years, from former Gov. Mike Lowry on down to South Whidbey school children who wrote dozens of letters on Lolita's behalf. Greenbank resident Susan Berta now heads the Orca Conservancy group which steadfastly fights for Lolita's freedom despite opposition from Lolita's owner, Arthur Heintz, for whom she is a big attraction at the Seaquarium.When the free Lolita effort began in 1996 it seemed like a long shot that an orca whale could be taken away from years of captivity and reintroduced to the wild. But that is no longer true. Keiko, the star of the popular Free Willy movie, has almost completed the transition to a wild state. His substandard home in a Mexican aquarium gave way to a more spacious pen in Oregon, from where it was transferred to a fiord in Iceland. There is no reason to think that Lolita, if cared for properly, couldn't make an equally impressive transition.There would be no better way to commemorate the Penn Cove orca round-up and, in some small way, make amends, than by placing Lolita on the path to freedom. For a whale, she's only middle-aged, still in her childbearing years.To help, call the Orca Conservancy at 360-678-3451, or write to 2403 S. North Bluff Road, Greenbank WA 98253. For more information, visit two websites: www.FreeLolita.net or www.rockislandcom/-tokitae.After 10 years, let's pay attentionThe state's Growth Management Act is now 10 years old, and for many islanders the time has arrived to start playing closer attention.This is particularly true in the Freeland and Clinton planning areas, where county-appointed panels are now mapping the future. Within these areas are several thousand residents who probably didn't give much more than a passing thought to the first 10 years of the GMA. To this point, objections to the GMA have largely come from big landowners and developers. And understandably so, as much of their land was downzoned and plummeted in value, at least in the short term. But the large majority of island property owners were not affected because they're happy with just one house on a lot or small acreage.But planning now taking place in Freeland and Clinton will directly affect our lifestyles. If Freeland and/or Clinton build sewer systems, expect high density housing and a resulting influx of people and automobiles, plus businesses to serve them and added taxes to support them all.This may be what people want. It certainly is what the Growth Management Act envisions. But planners in both communities would be much more comfortable if they knew the public was watching and helping. They don't want to unveil something after months of work only to see it roundly criticized and rejected. After 10 years, it's time for the rest of us to wake up and participate in the GMA process. "