Logging underway on south-end property, future sale still possible

Logging began last week on 22 acres of a large parcel of land on the south end, where a larger project, including a 40-acre clear cut on a steep slope, had been proposed last fall.

That proposal drew an outcry from islanders and led to the possibility of the Land Trust buying all or part of the property after the owner, Fukuen Eric Chen of Bellevue, withdrew the proposal last November.

The project underway has been much revised since then. According to the Forest Practice Application filed with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Jan. 3, the timber harvest is occurring within the upland portion of the property, avoiding unstable slopes and landforms and the groundwater recharge area. It will include a variable density thinning of up to 50 percent of the mature trees, and while replanting is not required by law, the owner will replant with Douglas fir and Western red cedar. Because it is outside of sensitive areas, no public notice was required.

Word of the project’s approval began to spread last week, and while some islanders have expressed concern that the project is moving ahead at all and have contacted the DNR, others close to the situation note this project is markedly different than what was originally proposed.

Islander Amy Carey has raised concerns about the mapping of the logging area, believing that it shows logging will take place in the recharge area. She added she has talked to DNR officials about this, and they have indicated that is not the case.

“If they believe that, they should change the map and show why they believe that,” she said.

Islander Greg Rabourn, who works for King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, with a focus on restoring and preserving salmon habitat, was among those who raised concerns last November. This time, with the revised scope, he did not raise objections.

“I am comfortable that it is complying with the law and within the rights of the property owner,” he said.

At the DNR, Forest Practice Forester Eileen Nichols compared this project with other logging projects on Vashon, providing context for it. She noted that the island receives a “fair amount” of logging permits for its size. Most of the logging is on parcels that range from 1 to 15 acres and include thinning of 25 to 30 percent of the trees. Typically, that work involves removing the understory of trees — those that are not growing well from lack of light and are taking resources from the larger trees. That is the situation across the highway from the Chen property, where an unrelated logging project is taking place. Those owners are removing up to 30 percent of the understory, and it is a typical island logging project, Nichols said.

In the Chen logging project, at 22 acres, the parcel is somewhat larger than typical, and trees of different sizes will be removed. Up to 50 percent will be taken out, but she noted that 50 percent is calculated not by stem count, but by board feet.

“The more larger trees you take, the sooner you get to the 50 percent,” she added.

Nichols stressed that the area marked for logging is outside the groundwater recharge area. While a hand drawing of the area may look differently on a map, on the ground the boundaries were carefully plotted out.

Jim Heuring, DNR’s Assistant Region Manager for Wildfire and Forest Practices, concurred.

“We feel that we have done our due diligence and what has been approved is a forest practice that meets all the rules and has been properly vetted and properly classed,” he said.

Nichols noted that Chen had submitted a proposal to log another upland area, but the DNR rejected it because some of it was in the recharge area. She expects that proposal will be resubmitted and noted that like they did in this instance, DNR officials will walk the land and make sure the boundaries are flagged correctly on the ground.

The consultant working with Chen — John Breithaupt of Tacoma’s Matrix and Associates — said he and Chen have tried to be good neighbors and are “perplexed and frustrated” by objections islanders have raised recently. He noted that during the 30-day comment period for this project, he repeatedly called the DNR and island contacts to learn if anyone was raising concerns, but there were not comments at that time. The revised logging project had been previously announced, and he said he had been told that some islanders were following its progress online. After hearing no objections, he thought there were none.

On his own initiative, he said, he has reached out to some neighbors of the property and intends to take their concerns into account when possible. One of those neighbors is Scott Carness, an attorney who lives just to the south of the Chen property. Carness said he was recently informed that there was an easement on his property and that logging vehicles would be using it. He does not believe there is such an easement, he said on Monday, but noted it might be a non-issue, as he has been told the loggers are open to other means of access.

“If they insist on using my road, there will be a dispute. I hope it does not come to that,” he added.

He credited Breithaupt for seeking him out for a conversation and said he is “cautiously optimistic” in terms of cooperation, but noted the noise is distracting while he is working at home, which he does 80 percent of the time.

“Hopefully I will get used to it,” he added.

While the permit allows logging for up to three years, Nichols said it would take nowhere near that long, and that logging of this type and size should take roughly about three weeks, although it might not happen all at once.

Meanwhile, Breithaupt said he has met with Land Trust Executive Director Tom Dean and the county’s Rabourn about the potential sale of the property.

“We have moved forward with discussion, and I am hopeful we can come to some sort of agreement,” he said.

For his part, Dean said acquiring the land — whole or in part — remains a high priority, but cautioned the eventual result would have no effect on current proceedings.

“I am still hoping to structure a deal with Mr. Chen and King County, but that is a long-term prospect and will not change any current logging practices,” he said.

With logging underway, Breithaupt said he is happy to speak to any islander with concerns about the project. He invited people to contact him via email at johnb64202@gmail. com.

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