Community

Islanders voice dreams, desires for new Maury property

Alyx Arteaga, who rides off-road vehicles, speaks at last week’s public meeting about the future of the Maury Island property King County purchased from Glacier Northwest. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Alyx Arteaga, who rides off-road vehicles, speaks at last week’s public meeting about the future of the Maury Island property King County purchased from Glacier Northwest.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

A large contingent of Islanders showed up at a meeting last week to learn about King County’s plans for its recently acquired Maury Island property and to voice their opinions about what should happen at the site.

While King County officials assured the approximately 150 attendees at last Wednesday’s meeting at Vashon High School that the public would be deeply involved in the planning process, it was clear that not all Islanders may be able to use the 250-acre property previously owned by Glacier Northwest as they wish.

A number of those who stood to speak during the public comment period expressed concern that off-road vehicles such as dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are already prohibited at the site.

Connie Blumen, the county’s natural resource lands manager, said the 250-acre property, which is currently being called a natural area, falls under county park regulations. Among other things, those rules prohibit motor vehicle use on the site’s five miles of trails.

Riders of varying ages said off-road vehicles should be allowed, as the site they call “the pit” is the only good place to ride on Vashon, and riders have been using it for decades.

One teenager noted that there’s not much for teens to do on Vashon, and it’s expensive to leave the Island to ride.

A young boy, Alyx Arteaga, suggested that riding could keep him and his friends from turning to other activities, such as drug use.

“I think the park should be open to, well, everything,” he said.

One woman who lives near the site told a different story. Bri Bradrick, a resident of the Gold Beach area, said dirt bike and ATV riders often ride fast and erratically on the streets near her home, sometimes without helmets. “My number one concern is safety,” she said.

“We also run into them on the trails,” she added, “and that’s scary when I have four- and six-year-olds with me.”

Blumen said the possibility of allowing off-road vehicles could be explored in future park planning. While park rules can be amended, she said, in this situation there are other obstacles in the way.

When the property was purchased late last year, $19.1 million of the $39.7 million purchase price came from the county’s Conservation Futures Fund. The fund, Blumen told the group, dictates that the property purchased must be used for passive recreation only.

“It specifically prohibits off-road vehicle use,” she said.

To change that requirement, Blumen said, the county would have to put $19.1 million toward the purchase of a similar property.

“We would have to use different funds on the site,” she said.

Doug Hoffman, an ATV-rider who also voiced his concerns at the meeting, said in an interview after the meeting that when he heard the county would have to purchase another property to allow off-road vehicle use at the Maury Island site, he worried that he and his family would never ride there again.

“I hope somebody at the county can be realistic, and hopefully they can see the benefit of having more people that use the open space,” he said.

Hoffman said he has signed two different petitions to the county requesting that off-road vehicle use be allowed on the property.

Blumen, in an interview after the meeting, said the county would, in fact, continue to explore the issue. Since only a portion of the property was purchased with Conservation Futures funds, it may be possible to allow off-road vehicle use on part of the property, she said, or to replace a portion of the funding in order to allow the use.

The process would be a difficult one, she said, complicated by the fact that properties with off-road vehicle use are more expensive to maintain. In addition, she said, vehicle use would likely require a more thorough cleanup of the soil, which is contaminated with arsenic and lead from the now-defunct Asarco smelter in Tacoma.

“It would take a very strong partnership with the user group,” she said. “They’d have to commit to a lot of self-enforcement and maintenance and may have to come up with some of the cost of the  acquisition. That’s the only way I see it being feasible from a financial perspective.”

A myriad of other concerns were voiced at the meeting. Some questioned whether parking lots and restrooms would be constructed. Others had opinions about what should happen with the old mining structures and pier at the property. And some hoped they could one day walk their dogs off-leash at the property, while others said they wanted to walk there without fear of being approached by loose dogs.

Though some opinions seemed to clash, most who spoke, including off-road vehicle riders, expressed a desire for everyone to use the property as they wished. Some speakers, such as Eliza Hitchcock, suggested that different uses could be allowed at different times or the property could be physically divided by use.

“I think that would be another way of looking at things,” she said.

Blumen said all comments, including those made in a survey that attendees could fill out, would be taken into consideration as the county develops a plan for the site.

First, she said, the county must work with the state Department of Ecology (DOE) to determine the extent of the pollution at the site and develop a draft cleanup plan. The cleanup plan won’t be finalized until a park plan, which outlines development and allowed uses at the site, is created. Blumen said a draft plan based in part on public response should be ready for review within a year.

“We’ve had several discussions with DOE,” Blumen said. “They won’t dictate what we do on the property; they just dictate what cleanup actions need to occur based on what we need to do on the property.”

Blumen said the parks department is also searching for funding, both in the parks budget and in the form of grants, for remediation work and site improvements. She said that if the county contributes $250,000 in funds towards site cleanup, Glacier Northwest has agreed to furnish $500,000.

“We do need significant funds not only to do remediation, but also development on the site,” Blumen said. “I would say it’s going to be a challenge, but we are learning of some funding sources and potential grant sources.”

Blumen said another public meeting will be held on Vashon in late April or May to give Islanders an update on the process and provide more opportunity for comments. In addition, the county will work to organize an advisory group of Islanders representing different organizations and user groups.

“All of our meetings will be open to the public, even if they’re planing advisory groups,” she said.

 

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