Officials at South Whidbey Parks and Recreation are trying to find a path of least resistance.
The district is holding an open house meeting Wednesday, Sept. 25, to gather public feedback and answer questions about a proposed new pathway for Trustland Trails, Parks Director Doug Coutts said. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the district office at 5475 Maxwelton Road.
Officials propose to add a second loop trail, which would be about a mile long.
The first trail the district built through the forested area sparked controversy after it was completed a couple of years ago. Neighboring property owners complained that they hadn’t been contacted prior to construction and they felt the trail strayed too close to private property.
This time, district officials are reaching out to the community for ideas and concerns, but at least one trail neighbor is already distressed.
Resident Richard Panzer said the proposed trail will come within 50 feet of his property. He claims that the district’s trail plan from 2008 made a promise to never put a trail within sight of neighboring properties.
He is opposed to the proposal, he said, because he’s opposed to the government breaking promises. He argues that the district’s new trail plan willfully repudiates the older plan.
In addition, Panzer questions whether the district should have obtained a clearing and grading permit prior to building the first trail and whether the trail plan should have gone through a State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, review.
“It seems that the SWPRD takes their autocratic behavior beyond breaking and rewriting their own rules,” he wrote in a statement to the district.
The county requires a clearing and grading permit for the removal of vegetation, excavation, cutting or filling only in certain circumstances, which includes close proximity to a critical area or two acres or more of land is cleared to bare earth, according to a county official. None of the conditions appear to apply to the Parks and Rec District’s trails.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Ecology said a trail management plan would likely require a SEPA review, but whether another review would be required for an update depends on the scope of the work.
Yet the spokesperson said staff members can’t find any evidence that a SEPA was ever completed for the original plan.
The current trail has been very popular, Coutts said. The only complaints the district received have been a couple about dogs off leashes. A staff member is at the trail almost every day, he said.