The following article appeared in the Anacortes American, Wednesday, March 24, 1999, p. A1.



City, Port Officials Meet with State Lands Director Over Future of Anacortes Waterfront Development

By Nancy Walbeck

American staff writer


A number of port and city officials learned that racking up just six acres of development mitigation credits for Fidalgo Bay developments is about as good as it will get - if it gets there at all.

Port and city officials along with others, met with Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer M. Belcher in Olympia last week.  It was clear from the outset that Belcher’s attention was riveted on an announcement made that same day Tuesday, Dec. 16, listing the Chinook as a threatened species.  Although it was expected, Belcher and those in attendance acknowledged the bar has just been raised when it comes to shoreline development near salmon habitat.

But Port director Rick Aschieris and Mayor Dean Maxwell said they were encouraged by Belcher’s knowledge about Fidalgo Bay and the kind and amount of work that has been done over the past several years in planning its future.  Maxwell said she lauded the city for initiating and continuing the bay’s study, but did add that all current criteria for evaluating habitat now will be under critical review.

“It was a cautious approach by Belcher, but it was clear to me (early on) that a 60-acre project without the necessary planning process wouldn’t be going anywhere,” Maxwell said after the meeting.

Maxwell was referring to MJB Properties’ plan to pitch a 60-acre mitigation plan in Fidalgo Bay, in addition to the ongoing six-acre project.  The latter is a combined effort of MJB, the Port of Anacortes and the city.  At stake is future shoreline development, but first eelgrass and possibly other crucial aquatic habitat must be grown elsewhere in the bay as a tradeoff to habitat lost near shoreline development  Most mitigation projects take several years, and success has been spotty.

Nevertheless, Belcher said she was impressed with the city’s detailed and extensive bay study, a model for others in the state, Port commissioner Merrill Thibert and Aschieris said.  But Thibert cautioned that Belcher also was “not a believer in mitigation.”

“She said there is no such thing as no-net-loss” on eel grass mitigation, Thibert added.

But Achieris and Belcher said the city had been “possibly a leader” in its bay study and how it had been handled.

“She thought we were well ahead of others (in the state) ... with our bay-wide regional approach in the water,” Aschieris said.

City planning director Ian Munce also added that one-quarter acre eelgrass mitigations have worked, under certain conditions, such as when Bill Wooding shifted some decking when he owned Curtis Wharf.  In shallow areas, once overhead obstructions to direct sunlight are removed, eelgrass has been restored.  It usually does require adjacent beds, however.

“It’s true, Belcher was concerned about large-scale projects, because these have not been proven.  So we focused on doing something modest - the six-acre proposal,” Munce added.

Maxwell asked Belcher to decide soon if the city could secure permission to work in the water, which the Department of Natural Resources oversees.

Belcher agreed to give the city an answer by the end of April, either way.  If it’s a “yes”, the city and its partners plan to take dredged sandy materials out into the bay an place them in appropriate areas.  By producing a more shallow body of water, eelgrass would have a greater chance to propagate.  The project would be scientifically monitored over the next five years.  If enough eelgrass is produced, then the city, Port and MJB will get to share up to six-acres of development mitigation credit.

“We need a lease or a right-of-entry permit from DNR to do mitigation in the bay,” Maxwell said, the last agency hurdle the bay plan has to jump over.  “I’m hopeful; it’s been five years and I hope we have an opportunity here.”