The following article appeared in the Anacortes American, Wednesday, September 9, 1998. DEVELOPER COMPLAINS OF UNFAIR TREATMENT BY COUNTY, NEWSPAPER. Land-Owner Stands by Right to Up-grade Road. By Nancy Walbeck American Staff Writer Although a Fidalgo Island subdivision developer maintains he was in the right to upgrade an existing road on his property, his own consultants concede he impacted more than 2,000 square feet of wetlands. Randy Previs, who owns about 44 acres off Miller Road, plans to build Lakewood Park Estates. The property will have no more than 20 homes, one of which will be his own after he moves to Anacortes from his Edmonds home. But Previs who bought the property last year from the Willette family, has impacted three wetland sites on his land. Also, Previs neglected to apply for an initial fill-and-grade permit from the count, nor did he get written authorization from the state Department of Natural Resources to convert forest land to a residential use. However, Previs, who maintained last week he has been unfairly treated by the county and the press, said he did make efforts to find out what he must do to develop his land. He also insists he was told upgrading and re-grading the existing road, for the most part, was OK. But Marianne Manville-Ailles of Skagit Surveyors and Engineers of Sedro- Wooley, said Previs clearly has impacted wetlands. "Randy had gone ahead and done road improvements; he disturbed those wetlands. He thought doing improvements to existing roads would be OK; that you just go out and fix it," Manville-Ailles said, while conceding that the state Department of Ecology might yet get involved. Skagit Surveyors was hired by Previs to survey the roads on site, before and after the impacts took place. The wetland damage impacts a total of 2,160 square-feet - five locations on three wetland sites all related to road construction. Wetland B, located higher up in the development is rated "moderate to high," and impacts wetlands areas alongside the south portion of the road, a total of 823 square feet, according to Previs' report from his wetland specialists, Aqua-Terr System, Inc., Sedro-Wooley. Wetlands A, the closest to Miller Road, is rated moderate, with its three impacted sites primarily attributed to road- building activity over them. The wetlands intrusion has occurred north and south of the main road, a total of 611 square feet in an area near a large, manmade pond. Wetlands C, also rated moderate, comprises 726 square feet of wetland impacted by road construction over it. The site, on a road perpendicular to the main one, is the most northerly of the impacts. "He (Previs) did impact some wetlands, and we have surveyed that," said Jim Wiggins, president of Aqua-Terr Systems. "He will have to do some mitigation for the impact, and the county will regulate that." But Previs was initially reluctant to concede any mistakes related to road- building on the property. He also maintains he was given conflicting or inadequate information on what was required, in the beginning, thus his ignorance about what (or whether) permits were required. He does agree that the stop-work order issued by the county around June 1 got his attention, and a meeting a few days later convinced him he needed a fill-and-grade permit. "That was to cover past and future grading on the site. I am not stating I violated anything. At the county's request, I was given 'tasks' (to do subsequently). In our view, we violated no ordinances nor laws at this time," Previs said in a meeting late last week. It is clear that the requirements for a fill-and-grade permit now have been submitted to the count planning department. Manville-Ailles said her firm submitted a drainage study, a wetland delineation report, a SEPA checklist (a state environmental report) and a set of road plans on Aug. 10. She also said this was done to bring the project into compliance, a post-facto action, and doesn't begin to address any mitigation requirement. That will come once the county determines the extent of the impacts and what needs to be done to offset the damages. "The matter is still under investigation," county planning director Tom Karsh said last week, adding that many "complexities" are involved because it is still unclear whether logging took place to upgrade the road system. However, the state Department of Natural Resources is sticking by its assessment that Previs, who has had a six- year development moratorium slapped on his property, impacted the property substantially with his road-fixing project. Jim Cahill of DNR said his department doesn't deal with after-the-fact permits, and will most likely sign off on the county's mitigation plan - once that is decided upon. One reason is the county's critical-area ordinance, which is much more stringent than DNR's criteria for wetland impacts. Karsh also added that the key to assessing damage on the site, and whether mitigation will subsequently lift the moratorium, is whether Previs did activity on his property that normally would need a Forest Practices permit. Karsh said DNR maintains that's the case; Previs' attorneys say they disagree. Bob Carmichael of Simonarson, Visser, Zender, et. al., in Bellingham said Friday, "There is a lot of gray area and room for interpretation" regarding whether Previs needed a Forest Practices permit, or even whether any impacts have occurred. "He doesn't think he did anything wrong in the first place, and there are exemptions here that may apply to Randy," Carmichael said. "I have been on the site and seen what's there; I don't have any adverse reaction to it." But Carmichael and his fellow attorney Dan Zender met with county planning official last Thursday and wrested a concession "press release" from county planners about county officials' comments in local press accounts of the matter. In particular, assistant code enforcement officer Diana Barnett was cited for "inappropriate" comments, and the press was charged with printing "out of context" verbiage related to official count response to Previs' wetlands' intrusions. Previs was at the meeting, along with his two attorneys, and they strongly urged Karsh to state that Previs had no intent to violate the law and had been "cooperative" with the county subsequent to the stop-work order. The press release, which Karsh said he signed Friday, Sept. 4, and which he agreed to distribute to the newspapers involved, conceded the unprecedented action "isn't a normal" one. He added that county attorneys and Previs' lawyers took a number of faxes Friday afternoon to hammer out an acceptable version, but admitted that none of the newspapers involved were informed as to the release's contents nor consulted about the issue of context. In fact, as of Monday night, no press release had been received by the American, and it was unclear whether the Labor Day holiday was the impediment. County commissioner Bob Hart, reached at home Monday night, said he was not informed about any press release and said he would look into the matter Tuesday, Sept. 8. "I'm unaware of any apology (issued by the county). (Randy) Previs was to call 10 days ago, but he didn't call me," Hart said. Hart also repeated remarks made two weeks ago, when the wetland impact story was first reported. Then he said no one can be exempted from creating environmental impacts, that everyone has to follow the law. "If the regulations aren't followed, then you are out of compliance," he said this week. It is odd that Previs didn't call Hart when expected, because Previs accused DNR's Cahill of failing to call him back. Cahill strongly disputes that, saying that "our mutual (phone) machines" have been talking. Previs also disputed another assertion, that he demanded that Dianna Barnett not be allowed to attend last Thursday's county meeting. He "categorically" denied that, saying he requested no such thing. But Karsh said Previs is mistaken, that attorney Carmichael specifically requested that Barnett be kept out of the meeting because of the "emotional" impact it would have on Previs. Meanwhile, Previs said he doesn't want to cause any more upset for Anacortes residents or those who live on Fidalgo Island. He wants to build his new home, move his wife and two young daughters here and be a "good neighbor". He also said he realizes he will have to comply with a mitigation plan to offset wetland damage and is ready to do so. But he also will have to deal with DNR, especially if he moves one tree or does even a small amount of additional clearing. Cahill firmly stated last week that a conversion permit is required for any "next steps" Previs takes on the land, and much of that will require a thorough review. That, and the ongoing county investigation, might uncover further development impacts, particularly if a riparian or onsite stream is found. Wetlands specialist Wiggins thought the site might have one, but his and Manville-Ailles work didn't extend much beyond road impacts and surveys. However, the steeply wooded site, cut with deep ravines and home to a large pond near its base, is likely to have a stream source. In any case, local environmentalists say they are keeping watch, including those connected with the adjacent Anacortes Community Forest Lands as well as the Fidalgo Island environmental group, Evergreen Islands, and Skagit Audubon. Elsa Gruber, longtime leader in Skagit Audubon and the vice president of Evergreen Islands board said many groups already are concerned, especially with any apparent intimidation toward county employees. "Diana Barnett ... deserves accolades for doing what she was hired to do - ensure compliance with the county's regulations, including the Critical Areas ordinance," Gruber said in a faxed message Monday. "I trust that the county will praise her, not censure her in response to external pressure. I can't believe the county would be influence by intimidation. "A full public airing of this whole situation is certainly warranted. Let's examine all the facts," she added.