Camp Casey plan raises concern for local forests

E-mails expressing outrage over the environmental implications of SPU’s possible expansion of Camp Casey have been circulating around campus this past week.

Environmental activists in the area believe this expansion would result in the uprooting of forest growth that deserves to be preserved.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) has been writing to students, urging them to voice their opposition to SPU’s proposal regarding this potential construction before it’s decision date, Dec. 16.

The proposal is being made by SPU to the Island County Planning Commission, and asks it to re-zone the forest site from its current classification as "rural" to "Special Review District." The university has plans to then add six buildings, taking up a total 50,000 square feet, and 50 cabins, taking up a total 17,500 square feet, if the proposal is approved.

The significance of the zoning is that, in the current rural zoning, the university is allowed to erect more buildings only in the already constructed area of Camp Casey.

By re-zoning of the area as "Special Review District," it would be possible for the university to consider expanding building into the forest area, according to Darrell Hines, associate vice president of business and facilicty services.

The potential environmental damage that would result from this expansion would be devastating, said Marianne Edain of WEAN.

"Almost all of the proposed development is to occur in the approximately 40-acre forest patch that is designated a ‘high quality terrestrial ecosystem’ by the Washington Natural Heritage Program," Edain said in an interview.

SPU’s Environmental Club is also disturbed over the potential impacts of this proposal.

The area targeted for building is currently "one of the few unlogged ancient forests … left in the coastal Puget lowlands," according to Environmental Club Leader Rebekah Koch.

Among other natural rarities, Edain said the site targeted by SPU contains " a stand of never-before logged, never cut trees," ranging from 130 to 350 years old.

Hines disagrees.

"This is a second-growth forest area along the bluffline. There are a number of first growth trees, but we’re not planning to touch those," he said.

In addition to the possible destruction of trees, environmentalists are concerned about water scarcity in Coupeville, the town from which Camp Casey draws water. Water in this area is conserved due to scarcity. The addition of residential and conference facilities at Camp Casey would greatly tax this resource.

Hines acknowledged this concern, saying SPU had met with the Mayor of Coupeville, and that "water is a scarcity. There’s no question about that. It’s certainly an issue that would have to be resolved in order for (SPU) to move forward with this proposal."

According to Hines, the approval of this proposal on Dec. 16 would not, in itself, give SPU the green light to proceed with expansion plans.

Rather, even if the land is re-zoned as Special Review District, SPU would still have to go through a series of steps and obtain building permits from Island County to proceed further with construction. In order to obtain these permits, the county will have to be satisfied that environmental preservation will be incorporated in the building plans.

"What comes out of Dec. 16 is just the first step in a long process," Hines said.

Part of the proposal entails the consent to keep some portions of the forest intact by promising not to cut down any trees with a diameter exceeding 42 inches, according to Edain.

Edain said that the majority of trees are less than 42 inches in diameter, leaving them subject to elimination. Also, the soil type in the area is conducive to the interweaving of roots.

"What you’ve got is 40 acres of trees with roots interwoven to hold them up. To cut any trees out of that network is to condemn the entire forest to blowdown, disease and eventual removal as hazard trees," Edain said.

According to Hines, the expanded building plans will allow for greater use of the conference center by larger groups. The buildings will have 342 beds, as well as cooking, meeting and conference accommodations, 160 parking spaces, and the addition of a two-lane loop road about a half a mile long running through the strip of forest.

Hines said these added buildings and amenities will provide the lure needed to attract an older, more diverse crowd that will give a badly needed boost to Camp Casey’s increasing revenue deficit.

The upkeep and expense of Camp Casey is at the heart of SPU’s desire to expand, according to Hines.

Hines emphasized the historical significance of the old military base to the SPU community.

"(Camp Casey’s) been part of SPU’s holdings since the ’50s. It’s become so important to so many people at SPU," Hines said.

"Whatever revenue comes into Camp Casey, it uses to support itself, "Hines said. "(The camp) has been getting by, but it’s not going to get by much longer without additional income."

Hines calls this the bottom line in the controversy over environmental concerns versus expansion.

"We’re not trying to destroy anything," Hines said. "We’re trying to generate new revenue to keep Camp Casey in business."

SPU anticipates about five acres of clearing if this proposal goes through, but that is without allowance for septic tanks, drain fields, water tanks and pipelines, according to WEAN.

Hines said there are other merits of the re-zoning.

"Under the current zoning, Camp Casey could potentially be divided into segments of acres and sold off."

If the land is re-zoned as "Special Review District," Hines said it would be zoned as a consolidated piece of land, protecting it from being segmented off.

Also, Special Review District also dictates what type of building can be erected in an area. In this case the kind of building approved would be constructed by non-profit and for non-profit organizations only.

"In other words, this expansion would never lead to a potential 7-Eleven or strip mall being built at Camp Casey," Hines said.

However, environmentalists say dispersing information on this issue remains their priority. Edain believes both students and builders need to be aware of the possible consequences of SPU’s plans.

"Essentially, they need to understand what they’re proposing, because if they don’t, they’ll call it an innocent mistake, and no one will be held accountable," she said.

Hines said the approach of the environmentalists was both unsubstantiated, and, ultimately, after-the-fact.

"Certain parties would like to present this as the university’s deep dark secret," Hines said. "This discussion has been going on for a long time. There have been two public hearings and articles published in the Whidbey Island News-Times," Hines said.

"What we’re seeing now is a last-second effort to frighten others. People have had ample chance to comment and now we’re down to the 11th hour, and we’re hearing these complaints."

Hines added that during these public forums, other environmental groups, such as the Smart Growth Coalition, are aware of the proposal and feel confident that no more than minimal damage is being done to the environment.

"What it comes down to is a matter of definition," Hines said. "The effects of this proposal are a consideration, certainly. But it is not our position that any old tree or shrub is valuable. Trees will be removed if the proposal goes through, but no more so than with any project."

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Title: Camp Casey plan raises concern for local forests | Author: Jade Nirvana Ingmire | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-11-27 | Internal ID: 2995