BLACK HILLS AUDUBON ALERT: West Rocky Prairie under threat of Industrial Complex

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BLACK HILLS AUDUBON ALERT: West Rocky Prairie under threat of Industrial Complex

Explanatory statement:

Please sign the petition by Monday, April 22, to be sent to the Thurston County Commissioners. Say no to RRI zoning request (industrial) for a 745-acre parcel of land between Millersylvania State Park and West Rocky Prairie Preserve.

The Port of Tacoma is working with a Missouri company, NorthPoint, to develop an extensive logistics center in South Thurston County with a projected six million square feet of warehousing most probably served by extensive Burlington Northern rail and truck traffic. The proposed site is located immediately north and west of the 800-acre West Rocky Prairie preserve owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This preserve includes federally threatened species, State Priority Species, Mima Mounds, and oak and prairie ecosystems. The site is slightly southeast of the nearby historic and popular Millersylvania State Park. It is no place for an industrial hub.

In 2007 and 2008, the Port of Tacoma attempted to establish a similar logistic center that, after much citizen protest, was withdrawn by the Port of Tacoma. Now the Port wants to rezone the entire parcel to industrial. On April 24, the Board of County Commissioners will discuss whether to put this rezoning amendment on their docket to decide this year.

This area has an extremely high water table. Impervious development and polluting truck/train traffic would threaten not only the endangered Oregon-spotted Frog and its sensitive wetlands but also compromise the local aquifer as well as the integrity of the WDFW preserve.

Petition Link

South Thurston County Threatened by Huge Industrial Development

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by Sue Danver – The 745-acre property in South Thurston County, once threatened by a proposed South Sound Logistics Center by the Port of Tacoma (POT), is again in danger of huge industrial development. The land borders the 800-acre West Rocky Prairie Preserve (WRP) that Black Hills Audubon worked to save many years ago. A development company from Missouri named North Point is asking the county to re-zone the whole property to Industrial zoning. We have been told that the company would like to build 6 million square feet of warehouses.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has long valued this entire biologically precious site (its preserve plus the 745 acres owned by the Port of Tacoma) for many reasons. It is a large and contiguous area with a diverse mix of rich habitats that support prairie, oak, and wetland species. There are several State Priority Species there. The area has the soils preferred by the Federally Threatened subspecies of the Mazama Pocket Gopher. WRP is one of the few areas in Washington where there is a population of the Federally Threatened Oregon Spotted Frog.

POT’s 745-acre site currently has a gravel mine that was permitted by the county in 2006. The project’s Special Use Permit (SUP) and a Settlement Agreement (SA) negotiated with conservation groups and signed by BHAS stipulate that the mine has a 20-year life. The SUP states: “When the mining operation is complete, the property would revert to non-industrial rural uses. The proposed reclamation plan would create lakes, wetlands, and upland forest areas.”

Industrial zoning would not only threaten the health of WRP’s prairie habitat and its sensitive prairie species, but also would likely result in an explosion of warehouse supportive industries into the surrounding beautiful rural and agricultural area, which includes nearby popular and historic Millersylvania State Park. The mine area is known for its high water table. It would be very difficult to manage the runoff from a large area of impervious surface. It can be assumed that water quality and quantity will be compromised. We are also concerned about the impact that all-night lights, noise, air pollution from truck traffic, and the pesticides (that are required with rail operations) would have on WRP.

The 1600-acre parcel that includes both WRP and the Port of Tacoma property has a long and complicated history. WDFW has sought to buy all 1600 acres since the 1990s but previous owners have refused. The 2005 SA was a compromise in which the developer would sell the southern 800 acres to WDFW and allow the owner of the northern half to mine 284 acres. BHAS was the signatory of the SA. But since the SA, there has been little mining at the Port’s Maytown mine. Because of this and a strong desire to own all 1600 acres, WDFW garnered several grants and has offered, for several years, to buy the Port’s property at its appraised value. The Port has refused these offers. Sadly, a State grant disappears June 30, 2019, which reduces the chance of a future WDFW purchase.

Thurston County did not notify BHAS and other members of the public of the April 3 briefing by Thurston County staff to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Fortunately, BHAS learned of the meeting and managed to submit an email prior to the briefing. BHAS requested the BOCC to adopt the staff’s recommendation which was to not add the North Point industrial zoning request to the 2018-2019 Comprehensive Plan Docket due to the anticipation of a massive outcry from Thurston County citizens and the time needed to resolve complex issues.

At the time of this writing, the next Commissioner briefing is scheduled for April 24 at 2 p.m.; a decision about whether to place the requested rezone on the 2018-2019 Comprehensive Plan Docket will most likely be made at that meeting. To stay informed on this issue, please go to the BHAS website for the current status of the BOCC decision and to find out how you can comment on this issue.

In conclusion, sometime after 2007, 2,000 citizens signed a petition to protect this unique landscape, prevent industrialization there, and keep South Thurston County rural. We hope that County Commissioners have realized or will realize that one company’s request should not outweigh the desire of thousands of local residents. Our elected officials should not allow our water quality and quantity and treasured natural lands be destroyed by outside interests.

For those who like details
As part of the SA, the Conservation organizations received $325,000. With agreement from our partners, BHAS has overseen significant expenditures towards monitoring wells on WRP. Jim Mathieu, the hydrogeologist for BHAS, has analyzed years of data to determine groundwater fluctuation over the course of a year. These studies will provide comparisons of water patterns prior to and post-mining. Water collection and analysis will continue through at least 2020.

The water data is useful to understand water level fluctuation in the wetlands just south of the Port/WRP boundary. The Federally listed Threatened Oregon Spotted Frog (OSF) resides in these wetlands. The OSF is very sensitive to water fluctuations during egg laying periods. We are committed to protecting this population of the OSF. In his 2018 report, Mathieu concludes:

“Protecting the existing hydrologic functions within the vicinity of WRP is critical to maintaining the aquatic habitat that OSF requires for its viability. Future land activities (especially mining excavation) in and near WRP should be highly scrutinized for impacts to water conditions, OSF habitat, and frog recovery efforts. (Mathieu, June 2018, p.5)”

Help! We need somebody…

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All the work done for this chapter is by volunteers for whom we are very grateful. There are many opportunities to become more involved with us. If the work is spread out to many, no one is overloaded. Below are some positions that need filling.

Facebook Page Manager: Keeping our presence on FB is important. We need someone to post our events, classes and interesting photos or pieces about NW birdlife. Occasionally we have questions asked of us.

Hospitality Committee: Are you able to occasionally contribute snacks for our monthly speaker series? Help prep the room or welcome visitors? This is a great way to meet members too. We also occasionaly need volunteers to “table” an event. This involves staffing a table with our materials and talking to event attendees about our organization.

Education Committee: Do you enjoy working with youth on field trips, work parties or in the classroom making presentations? We are developing new partnerships with area schools and need more volunteers. We also need help organizing and publicizing our annual classes.

Avian Science Program Participation: There are several monitoring programs in which we participate. Duration and time commitment vary. This is a great way to support research on local bird species as well as honing your birding skills.

Please contact Deb Nickerson at debranick@nullgmail.com if you are interested in any of these volunteer opportunities.

Purple Martin Project

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(by Bob Wadsworth) On a densely foggy morning, January 13, Hank Henry and I joined the Olympia Harbor Patrol on a trip from Swantown Marina to Boston Harbor where we met Craig Merkel to do the annual cleaning of the purple martin nest boxes. (Harbor Patrol Captain Darlene flanked by crew members Janet Notarianni and Dave Palazzi)

On the way we soon discovered that our binoculars were useless as the fog was so thick we couldn’t see beyond to bow of the boat.  The Harbor Patrol got a good chance to instrument-navigate with radar and GPS.

Bob and Janet enjoying the view.

We had chosen this particular date because of the high tide (10:15 AM) during daylight hours which meant that we could reach the nest boxes attached to pilings at the marina from the deck of the boat without a ladder.

Working on the boxes.

We found that all six boxes were used by the Martins.  They had a thick mat of twigs and except for one box, all appeared to have birds fledged with no broken eggshells or dead nestlings. 

However, we did find one nest with five unhatched eggs and a dead martin which we could not identify as either juvenile or female adult.

This is the third season of monitoring purple martin nest boxes at Boston Harbor Marina.  Three years ago, we installed 22 boxes to supplement a dozen boxes already there.  As it turned out, those boxes were not used by the birds.  After the second year of not being used, we replaced them with six boxes that were built to meet a design more appropriate for purple martins.  This year’s results indicate these boxes are to the birds’ liking.

Moving to Electronic Echo in July

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(by Deb Nickerson) Some people have wondered why we have not transitioned to all-electronic communication prior to this year; it is a difficult decision, since so many tell us they like having the paper Echo lying around their house at the ready when they want to reread an article or look up a field trip or event. So it is after much debate that the Board has made this the year to switch from paper to digital news. As a conservation organization, we should reduce our use of paper, and this helps fulfill that responsibility. It is also costly; we will save thousands of dollars, which will be used to further our education and conservation work. And believe me, a few thousand dollars a year means a great deal to us. 

We have an up-to-date website that contains everything in the Echo, so we often find that information printed in the Echo has already been “published” online and is not new to many members.  Because we understand the desire for printed versions, we will be using a format in our electronic newsletter that allows you to print a single article or the entire issue. We appreciate all you do to support our efforts and events, and we look forward to continuing our work. Your belief in the importance of bird conservation, habitat restoration, research-based legislation, and thoughtful community planning encourages us to hold fast to our principles and push forward on the many fronts in which we are engaged.

Hence, we are updating our email list and want your most current email address. Update your address on our website, using the button at the bottom of our home page or send it to Margery Beeler, Membership Chair .  If you are unable to access the internet and want to receive the paper newsletter, please leave a message on our phone line (360) 352-7299) with your name and request.

Thank you for your continued support,

BHAS Communications Committee