Maury Park pier to be removed

King County plans to remove an aging pier at the Maury Island Regional Park, a decision that has angered divers who consider it a prime spot to observe marine life but pleased others who say it is an ecologically smart move.

Kevin Brown, the director of the parks division in King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said the agency has no choice but to remove the pier, which has been battered by bad storms over the last few years. Some of the posts that support the decking are beginning to corrode and fail, making the dock unsafe, he said; the cost to repair them, he added, is in the hundreds of thousands.

“We see this as a safety hazard,” Brown said. “That’s one of our highest priorities — to ensure that our park facilities are safe for public use.”

The decision was made with no public input, however, leaving some Islanders frustrated by their inability to weigh in on an Island matter they consider important. County officials came to Vashon in late January to discuss the issue with Islanders, but the officials made clear at the meeting that their decision was already made, said Karlista Rickerson, a Vashon diver who attended the gathering.

Even calling the meeting was done hastily and without much notice, she said.

“King County parks got ahold of me and said, ‘We need a meeting fast,’” Rickerson said. “I got together six to eight people, and that’s when we found out the dock was coming down and we didn’t have any say in the matter. … We were sitting there with our mouths gaping open.”

Rickerson said she heard from an aide in County Councilman Dow Constantine’s office that the county was motivated not simply by safety but also by its long-standing effort to block Glacier Northwest, which wants to tear down its old dock and build a new one so as to enable it to offload millions of tons of gravel from Maury Island. Both docks are located within the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, one of four such reserves in the state.

“How can we, the county, repair our dock and tell Glacier they can’t build theirs,” Rickerson said, quoting the staffer.

Brown, however, said that’s not true.

“We looked at it purely from how expensive it is,” he said.

Said Doug Williams, a spokesperson for the county parks division, “From the King County parks’ standpoint, Glacier had nothing to do with it.”

The county purchased the 297-acre Maury Island Regional Park in 1994 and opened it to the public a year later. The park, with its 7,100 lineal feet of salt-water shoreline, provides one of the largest parcels of undeveloped waterfront property in the area. It also has 180 acres of Madrone forest, the largest parcel in the Northwest, according to the county.

Those who know it well call the park a gem.

“It’s a rare asset, a diamond for both our local community and our region,” said Dan Carlson, who lives nearby and walks there often. “You’re able to walk there in the middle of the day and experience relative isolation. It’s pretty special.”

The park, considered an undeveloped one in King County’s system, is only lightly visited, but it’s been prized by divers who enjoy the underwater adventure of seeing animals attached to the pilings or hiding in the crevices they create.

Rickerson said its demise will be a loss. “Once the pilings are gone, there won’t be anything to look at,” she said.

Others, however, say the dock’s removal is best for the environment. The dock’s pilings are coated in creosote, a known toxin. What’s more, that stretch of shoreline is one of the area’s longest drift cells, a term that refers to a long expanse of marine shore that moves sediment and shapes the shoreline in an ecologically significant way.

Pat Collier, who lives on Maury and walks along its beaches often, said she wants to see the dock removed for the same reason she’s working to block Glacier’s expansion.

“When I walk the beach at extreme minus tides, I can see eelgrass up to the dock, and then the eelgrass disappears or is reduced,” she said. “I just don’t think it should be there. The attraction of that park for many people is that it’s a natural area. That dock just doesn’t belong there.”

But those who have been called into action because of the county’s visit to the Island last month to discuss the pier’s fate say there’s been a positive outcome to the controversy: They’re forming a new group, called Friends of Maury Park, which held its first meeting last week.

The county has largely neglected the park since its creation more than a decade ago, said John Gerstle. Now, he, Rickerson, Carlson and others are in the beginning stages of forming a group that will be able to advocate for its restoration and improvement, he said.

When the county came out to Vashon, officials told Islanders they should apply for a grant to address some of the park’s many needs, Gerstle said. He and others are now eager to do so. He’d like to see funds go towards trail repair and habitat restoration, for instance.

“I’m hopeful,” Gerstle said. “There are a number of different users, and if we can find some common ground, I think we could secure a small grant and do some things there.

“There’s a lot that could be done to improve the park,” he added. “It’s a wonderful thing for the Island.”

Friends of Maury Park to meet

The group will hold its second meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19, at the Vashon Library. Officers will be elected at the meeting, which is open to all Islanders.