Voters could decide additional protections for conservation land

July 7, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Voters could soon decide to protect sensitive land along Issaquah Creek, parts of Cougar and Squak mountains, and dozens of other natural areas throughout King County.King County Council members will decide whether to send a measure to voters to protect roughly 150,000 acres of county land. If council members approve the measure, voters would decide in November whether to amend the county charter to create more protections for 95 designated sites. If voters approved the Open Space Amendment, the properties could only be sold by a supermajority vote of the County Council.

Ken Konigsmark, a resident of rural King County between Issaquah and Preston and a vice president of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, said the measure was a political compromise.

“I know the risk that faces these lands based on the political whims that come and go,” Konigsmark said. “It takes something stronger than trusting the political system to protect these lands.”

County officials would not purchase new land under the Open Space Amendment. The county already owns all of the land eyed for increased protection.

Issaquah City Councilman David Kappler, a staunch environmentalist, said he favored increased protections for rural county lands. He said the measure would create a hurdle to prevent county officials from utilizing conservation land for other purposes.

Members of the Issaquah Environmental Council and other county conservation and civic groups endorsed the amendment.

But the amendment has evolved since County Council members first took up the proposal.

County Councilman Bob Ferguson, of Shoreline, earlier introduced a version of the amendment that would have required voters to decide whether to remove or add lands to the protected list.

Konigsmark, who has followed the proposal’s progress, said the initial proposal would have been ideal. But he said the updated amendment is the next best thing. He said the protected lands are safe only because elected officials fear a public outcry would erupt if they decided to sell the properties.

“All it takes is a different county administration,” he said. “And in a tight budget time like they’re in right now, who’s to say that they wouldn’t sell?”

Many of the lands, however, are already protected by a conservation easement. Some of the properties are wetlands that could not be developed even if they were sold.

Included on the list are Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Cougar Mountain-Squak Mountain Corridor and two parcels along Issaquah Creek south of the Issaquah city limits.

Ferguson said he preferred the updated proposal. The revised amendment would enable voters to make a choice about the initial properties — and then put the onus on County Council members to consider future additions and subtractions.

“The idea to go back to all the voters of the county to vote on something that specific doesn’t make sense,” Ferguson said.

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, of Redmond, said she was pleased with the updated proposal. Her district includes Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend.

“We ended up where I wanted to be in the beginning,” Lambert said. “I’m happy that we got there and were able to preserve the properties.”

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at ext. 234 or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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