The following article appeared in the Anacortes American, Wednesday, April 07, 1999





American staff writer


 The state agency that oversees tidelands in Fidalgo Bay has given the city of Anacortes the go-ahead to begin an eelgrass demonstration project, but it refused to guarantee development "credits," saying it is too soon to make that decision.


 Jennifer Belcher, the state Commissioner of Public Lands and the head of the state Department of Natural Resources, told Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell that the city and its partners can begin the six-acre demonstration restoration project. Maxwell and Port officials had asked two weeks ago for a quick decision on whether the city had any chance to launch the project, or should they just close the chapter on any future shoreline development.


 Belcher, who Maxwell said was impressed with the city's comprehensive, five-year plan on Fidalgo Bay development, promised to comply, but also warned in a meeting in Olympia she was now having to re-assess agency dictates because of the new Endangered Species Act regarding salmon.


 "I am very pleased ... that she has allowed access into DNR land and to do the project. It is a very important step," Port executive director Rick Aschieris said. "The Port is committed and interested in participating in the project, although there is a certain element of risk."


 The Port had planned to go to bid soon on the eelgrass demonstration project. The plan was to "seed" six-acres of underwater areas in the bay or Rosario Strait. Clean dredge spoils would be deposited, raising the sandy bottom higher, thus exposing a now-shallow area to direct sunlight. When this is done near existing eelgrass beds, re-seeding apparently occurs -- as it has done near the Guemes Wharf.


 But any project will take five years to "prove" itself, and only when it does will any mitigation credits be forthcoming -- if Belcher changes her mind. Those credits are crucial, the endgame in a long process that will allow future development on the bay shoreline. Through a one-on-one trade, six acres could be used to assist the Port, the city and private

developer MJB Associates in their ongoing projects.


 Dan Dingfield, project manager for MJB's shoreline and upland development on Fidalgo Bay, said Monday he was disappointed Belcher failed to guarantee mitigation credits.


 "After all these years working on the Fidalgo Bay plan, to have DNR be that cautious, that withholding ... I'm not sure it's warranted," Dingfield said.


 Maxwell, however, said he is encouraged by Belcher's quick and helpful response. He said he also expects the project to be successful, although it is uncertain now who will partner with the city -- or even if the city will be the lead actor.


 "I don't know how much further we can carry the ball. Development (by the Port and MJB) must pay its way," Maxwell said.


 In any case, any urgency to rush out to bid has now been shelved. The Port's dredge spoils from its Cap Sante Marina project won't be available for some time because of a delay in permitting. Further, city planning director Ian Munce said it is still uncertain whether eelgrass sites will be in Fidalgo Bay or farther out, likely in Rosario Strait. More assessment needs to be done, including the cost of the five-year monitoring, estimated at a $164,000, Munce added. Even mitigation credits, if they are granted, need to be carefully doled out. Generally, those are based on cost-share by each participant, and Munce said those precise details have yet to be worked out.


1999 Skagit Valley Publishing Co.