Letter to the Skagit River System Cooperative following February 10, 2015, public meeting.
We own a home and property adjacent to the False Lucas Slough, on Stafford Lane, off Martins Road in Rockport. Our property is west of the Barnaby Slough habitat restoration project area and may be at significant risk as a consequence of actions your action planning process envisions.
About forty area residents joined us last night (February 10, 2015) to hear your presentation on this project, ask questions and express their concerns. Generally, there is a very high level of concern and anxiety regarding your intentions and the possible effects the execution of your more aggressive ideas may have here. Though, as you explained, your implementation planning to carry out what you refer to as alternative #4 has yet to be accomplished, long time, well-informed local residents, such as Howard Stafford, who has lived in this immediate area his entire life, know that diverting significant Skagit River flow into the Barnaby Slough may well result in a change in the Skagit that could devastate our lands. In a nutshell, we do not trust the analysis and outcome modeling work your consultant has done. Local experience projects a different outcome.
Though there is not opposition to the idea of improving salmon habitat, I think it’s safe to say that our far greater concern is the impact your project could have on our use and enjoyment of our homes an properties here, including the productive use of high quality farm land. Obviously, we would oppose anything you do which would undermine property values in this area.
Your exclusion of local private property owners and residents from your restoration project steering committee has left area property owners and residents insufficiently informed and insufficiently involved. This has increased the level of concern and distrust. There appears to be an over-weighing of value toward the fishing related stakeholders, potentially at the expense of stakeholders who have interests of greater economic and social value. This could result in decisions which insufficiently value and even disregard the legitimate rights and interests of property and home owners here. I appreciated your interest in rectifying that problem by including several local individuals.
It was advised last night that your statement of project values more explicitly include the interests of area land and home owners relative to the use and enjoyment and market values of their properties. It was also well advised that your values include the preservation of farm land in this area.
I think that it is imperative that you communicate very well with the people here. You need to do more than you’ve done up to now. Though you’ve sent correspondence and have a website, you need to be more proactive and facilitative in terms of informing area land owners and residents. Visit each owner and occupant and provide them with all relevant information and answer all their questions and concerns. Though you’ve got PDF files available for download on your website, they are large and cannot be easily accessed by all affected individuals in this area where quite a few people do not have internet service or download capability to easily access the documents. So, I think you should provide hard copy documents to any area individual who would like to have one. It was evident last night that quite a few people had not previously seen the material you presented. I also think you should go above and beyond in sharing any public meeting in which this project is discussed. For example, I think it’s reasonable to ask you to video tape the meeting you have planned on February 23rd in Sedro Woolley and post it on youtube.com so residents in Rockport can see it promptly after the meeting. That meeting should be held in Rockport, not Sedro Woolley. The project is in Rockport and the citizens most directly affected by the implementation of your plan live here not in Sedro Woolley.
At this point in your study and planning work you have not developed the specific actions you would take to implement anything, yet you intend to make a decision on which alternative to implement, evidently within six months. Though Devin spoke with integrity about his personal commitment to carrying out a project like this so as not to harm area private interests, and I appreciate that very much, this is a collective action being driven by interests which place greatest value on achieving significant habitat enhancements. It’s easy to envision a future featuring disregard for what matters to us and our neighbors. There are people who would happily drive us from land that’s been the home of ancestors and area families for well over a century. It’s easy, in fact, to imagine a conspiracy of disregard for what we value, all for the admirable but narrow aim of improving fish habitat.
If I was leading your initiative I’d be advancing the intention to completely mitigate any risk associated with redirecting the flow of the Skagit River with respect to flooding this area. You have acknowledged the fact that you cannot know what will happen as a consequence of opening Barnaby Slough, which tells me that you must be very conservative in your actions. At this point we do not trust that the actual restoration work and its long term management and maintenance will serve the interests of land and property owners here.
So, you’ve got a lot of work to do to persuade us that what you intend to do will not harm our interests. Of course, we will hold all the project drivers accountable for the consequences of their actions.