Conservation complicates proposal for Camp Casey

The possible development of Camp Casey as outlined in the proposed Master Plan for Camp Casey Conference Center (MPCC) on Whidbey Island has been met with concern, and in some cases opposition, from people worried about the possible environmental impacts of developing the land.

"I’m principally concerned that the current plan maximizes the ecological impact on the site," said senior biology major and Environmental Club President Nathan Brouwer.

Brouwer was especially concerned with the location of much of the development. The cabins and retreat centers will all be built in a wooded area north of the current buildings and developed grounds at Camp Casey. Brouwer’s concern is that development in the central part of the area will cause more environmental disruption than building on the periphery of the land.

"The new buildings would be in the middle of the woods, and any degradation to the forest community is enhanced by this central disruption," Brouwer said. "In their efforts to get in touch with nature with a wooded retreat center, they are doing something ecologically irresponsible."

The current development project includes roughly 30 acres, 3.3 of which will be developed into housing and facilities or roads, according to Darrell Hines, associate vice president of business and facility services.

The current MPCC is being evaluated by a planning commission, which will hold a public hearing at the end of April or in early May, according to Hines. At that point, the plan will then be passed to the Highland County Commissioners, who must reach a decision regarding the MPCC by the end of the calendar year.

"I’m optimistic that the plan will be adopted," Hines said.

According to Hines, the interests of several groups were taken into account in the decision to build in the location proposed in the MPCC.

Among the concerns expressed were those over the maintenance of the environment as well as the site-line, the view of the land from both the water and Engle road, which border the site. With the current plan, the development would be nearly invisible from these locations. According to Hines, there was a concern among those developing the plan that the integrity of the view be maintained.

"We’ve consulted with the county several times and a couple of the environmental groups and the national parks. A big goal and desire on their part is to maintain the site-line," Hines said.

As part of developing in this region, Hines explained that any ecologically significant species of tree had been identified and taken into account in the planning of the development. "We’ve avoided any areas that have ecological significance," he said.

Senior Mary Hemme is concerned about the possible "edge-effects" of such development.

"Any time you develop portions of forest, it affects areas beyond that development," she said.

However, Hines emphasized the time spent in carefully addressing the issues of environmental damage in developing the current plan.

"We really took an approach that would minimize the impact on the environment," he said. Among other things, the MPCC does not include plans to pave the roads so that water will continue to be absorbed by the ground, helping to maintain the natural environment of the area.

Another concern expressed regards 25 acres of land north of the development site. SPU is looking into selling this area in five-acre lots. The money would be used to start the development project, or, if the development project does not occur, to fund the existing facilities. The concern regards one of the plots, which contains a rare breed of plant known as the Golden Indian Paintbrush.

The plant, according to Sheilagh Byler of Au Sable, a Northwest environmental organization, is a federally listed endangered plant.

"What’s special about the plant is that it’s so rare, and there’s only a few sites left," she said. "When you have something that rare and that precious, some of us believe that it’s a real responsibility as Christians to take care of that plant and be real environmental stewards."

Lesli Corthell, who taught the University Seminar "God’s Green Earth" last year, focusing on the integration of Christian faith and creation care, expressed the hope that all measures to protect this species of plant have been taken into account.

"As the university finalizes plans to divide into five parcels and sell land that is home to an endangered species of plant and old growth trees, I hope that we would make every effort to sell the property to conservation organizations who would embrace the responsibility of protecting and preserving it for SPU and the community at large," she said.

In maps outlining the development plan, Hines included the location of this plant. He explained that as part of selling the land, stipulations for the protection of the plant would be included.

Brouwer echoed Byler’s concerns regarding environmental stewardship.

"Though I understand the economic situation of both Casey and the school in general, I am saddened that our role as Christian stewards of this beautiful land is being overshadowed by economic concerns," he said.

Hines explained that he believes stewardship has been very much at the fore of the plans for Camp Casey. However, he added that simply leaving things as they currently are is financially impossible.

"If people believe stewardship means not changing anything, that’s not possible for the university," he explained. "If we do nothing, my personal view is that in ten years the university will be faced with selling."

Financial concerns are the driving force behind the development of Camp Casey, according to Hines. The intent of the plan is to keep the location economically self-sufficient. The problem is that maintenance of the current facilities is approaching the point of taking more revenue than the conference center currently generates.

"Our belief is that the general SPU population would oppose this," Hines said. Residence Halls, clubs, athletic teams and other SPU groups often make use of the facilities. The conference center has a long tradition of serving SPU as well as other local churches and organizations. As part of preserving the historical significance of the site, Hines explained that there was a strong desire to keep the current facilities maintained as they are and develop beyond them.

Currently, the conference center, because of the barrack-like accommodations, is mainly used by youth-focused organizations such as church youth groups and soccer camps.

"Our goal with this plan is to serve the same groups but expand the population we might attract there," Hines said.

The development of the MPCC began over six years ago, according to Hines, and has taken into account the many interests regarding the land.

"The university has moved very slowly," he said. "Yes, there would be some clearing, but it would be minimal."

Hines explained that often in development projects, the proposed development includes items that an organization is willing to give up when negotiating the implementation of the plan. For example, there are aspects of the current science building project at SPU that could have been given up, Hines said. He explained that often part of the negotiating process entails asking for more than you really need.

In this case, however, Hines said that the desire was to change as little as possible so the plan was developed based on the needs that must be met in order for SPU to hold on to the facilities and land, rather than an anticipated process of negotiating.

"In this case, we evaluated the needs to make it financially work, but as a result, there is very little that could be given up to make it work," he said.

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Title: Conservation complicates proposal for Camp Casey | Author: Laura Onstot | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-04-24 | Internal ID: 2658