Amid logging project concerns, DNR provides brief extension for public comment, explains process

State officials have extended an important commenting deadline for the recently proposed 100-acre logging project on Vashon’s south end, while this week local environmentalists, neighbors of the property and at least one elected official have raised concerns about the scope of work proposed.

On Thursday, the SEPA Center at the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent out a notice indicating the agency would accept comments beyond its original Nov. 8 deadline for the SEPA process, which helps identify projects’ possible environmental impacts. The new deadline is 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14. The notice indicated that the extension was given in response to requests for a delay; it also followed earlier information from the agency that was unclear about the importance of the SEPA process deadline. People with concerns about the project should submit them by Nov. 14, not Nov. 18 as previously indicated.

Speaking on Thursday about his decision to extend the deadline, Jim Heuring, assistant region manager for wildfire and forest practices in the South Puget Sound Region at the DNR, said a lot of people had asked that there be more time to comment, with at least one request for a January deadline. He noted he could not extend the date that far into the future, as he needs the comments to help inform his upcoming decision.

“I am required by law to make a decision on Nov. 18th, and I want to make the best decision possible on the 18th,” he said.

The proposed project is to take place on 192 acres of land owned by Fukuen Eric Chen of Bellevue and currently includes selective logging on two 30-acre sections in the level area of the land and a 40-acre clear cut set on steeper terrain. People with property adjacent to Chen’s land received notices of the project two weeks ago, and concern about the project and awareness of it has grown since then. Concerns have been raised about a variety of issues, including the steepness and stability of the slope designated to be clear cut and the fact that the property is close to natural areas owned by the Vashon Park District and King County.

On Thursday, Heuring spoke to some of the concerns he has received and the process involved with the application.

He noted that when a Class IV forest practices application comes in — as this application is — DNR requires the applicant to go through the SEPA process so the public has an opportunity to comment. He reviews the applications, he added, and must make an initial determination quickly because of legal timelines that govern the process. He can make three choices for what is called a threshold determination — the determination of nonsignificance, nonsignificance with mitigation, and significance, which would require an Environmental Impact Statement.

By far the most common designation he makes — “99 times out of 100,” he said — is the determination of nonsignificance, but he noted this is not a final decision.

“It is an initial call. That allows us time to further study it,” he said.

When he reviewed the application for the project on Vashon, some issues jumped out him, he added, primarily steep slopes that are to be harvested and the presence of sag ponds — small bodies of water in depressions formed where fault movement has affected drainage. Additional concerns, he added, were questions about the creek, which leads to Puget Sound — and about groundwater recharge — how the water soaks into the ground and the path it takes after that.

Apart from those factors, he said he has learned about suspected high arsenic levels on the property, and he is now in touch with the Washington Department of Ecology about that issue.

“We try to put the whole picture together,” he said. “We are looking at the big picture and will continue to look at the big picture and try to make a determination.”

Public safety is his largest concern, he added, followed closely by the protection of public resources. He noted that he has been in touch with Greg Rabourn, who lives on the island and works for King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, with a focus on restoring and preserving salmon habitat.

“I want to know his concerns and will take his concerns into account as well,” Heuring added.

When news of the potential logging first broke, Rabourn spoke to those concerns and noted his largest worry was about potential logging impacts to nearby bogs, a rare natural feature. On Friday, Rabourn said that his division — King County’s Water and Land Resources — has pulled together a working group to study the proposal. Included on it are a geologist, wetland expert and forester; they are coordinating with other county employees up to, and including, Executive Dow Constantine.

“We do not want to rush to judgement,” Rabourn said, “but we do want to give it the same attention we would any project that could impact the natural resources on Vashon.”

At the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, Executive Director Tom Dean is away, but Operations Manager Julie Grunwald said many islanders have reached out to the agency with concerns and that staff members have been informing the public about the facts of the proposed project and letting them know how to obtain more information and comment. She said at this time, the Land Trust is not weighing in in an official capacity, but is interested in how it proceeds.

“We don’t want to see anyone take away Chen’s rights,” she said. “We just want to make sure (logging) is done responsibly and safely. There are well documented forestry practices that can enhance the health of a forest and surrounding habitat if done properly.”

Additional island environmentalists have joined the conversation. Like Rabourn, Vashon Nature Center’s Bianca Perla said her largest concerns are for the bog areas, specifically runoff changing the chemistry of the areas. Additionally, she believes the affected species indicated on the application were “woefully inadequate,” and said she is collating a documented list for the area, which will include at least 60 additional species.

Longtime environmental activist Amy Carey also plans to comment, saying she believes the project carries a high likelihood of significant impacts. In particular, she said she believes the most pressing concerns are the clear cut on steep slopes, the hyrogeology of the area and arsenic in the soil.

“There is a lot of risk and not adequate review,” she said.

A fan of centralized effort and information, Carey also created a Facebook page for people to share information, called Vashon Clear Cut – Take Action.

News of the proposed project quickly reached Sen. Sharon Nelson, who lives on Maury Island, and has also weighed in. Nelson said several constituents have reached out to her with concerns and that she has concerns of her own.

“I feel that the determination of nonsignificance does not reflect the potential impacts of this site,” she said.

She noted that the submitted environmental checklist did not mention arsenic and that she wanted those overseeing the project to take a serious look at the hydrogeology of the property. She added she is supposed to speak with DNR officials soon and believes they are taking islanders’ concerns seriously. She also stressed the importance of the situation.

“We need to make sure our resources are protected and that we look fully at a logging project of this size,” she said.

She recalled the early history of the Glacier Northwest project, a controversial Maury Island mining project that conservationists and many islanders — initially led by Nelson — fought long and hard against. When it was proposed, she said, it, too, had received a determination of nonsignificance.

“When citizens provide the agency with information they (the agency) do not have, it can make a difference,” she added.

DNR officials say that comments that are about measurable, scientific concerns are most helpful to them at this stage and should be sent by the Nov. 14 SEPA deadline. On Monday, however, Heuring said that if he receives a new comment that raises an important issue about public resources or safety after Nov. 14 and before the Nov. 18 application deadline, he will consider it, even though the timing is after the official SEPA deadline. He added that he had received about 30 comments so far, which he characterized as a high number.

An interdisciplinary team is slated to come to Vashon for a site review this week, including Heuring, a licensed engineering geologist and a representative of the landowner, among other experts, according to written information Heuring provided. That information also indicates DNR officials believe that a complete review will be completed by the Nov. 18 deadline and a final SEPA determination will be made, including a determination of nonsignificance, mitigated determination of nonsignificance or determination of significance, at which time an environmental impact statement would be required and with a new timetable for the project.

Comments should be submitted to the SEPA Center at or P.O. Box 47015, Olympia, Washington 98504-7015. Include SEPA File # 16-102501 on all comments.

For more information, see

See also a newly created island Facebook page about this project, Vashon Clear Cut – Take Action.