Concern from agencies and conservation groups about the impact on the success of animal crossings under construction along Interstate 90 has killed the idea to offer a piece of State Parks property for private development.
The state Parks Department has scuttled its idea to offer its property at Crystal Springs for private development after agencies and conservation groups protested that it could undermine the success of wildlife crossings along Interstate 90.
“We might want to do something with that property in the future. But right now there is nothing in the pipeline,” said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for the agency.
Today the property is a day-use-only parking lot with a portable toilet, used by people heading out for snowmobiling, dog mushing and other winter snow play. Access is closed the rest of the year.
State Parks, as part of a larger strategy to raise money, had proposed offering the property along with 10 others for private recreational development. Ideas for the Crystal Springs site included a lodge, RV park, cabins and retail shops.
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But state and federal agencies and conservation groups that poured years of work and millions of dollars in public and private money into wildlife crossings and land conservation in the I-90 corridor informed the Parks Department during its public-comment period that they opposed further development at the site.
“It’s good to know the process worked, that people were able to comment, and they were heard,” said Brian White, acting regional administrator for the South Central Region at the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The department has more than 20 animal-crossing structures under way as part of its ongoing widening of I-90 to six lanes between Hyak and Easton.
The Crystal Springs property is within a mile of several crossings already constructed, and a $6 million bridge just for animals the department started building last year.
WSDOT is renting the parking lot now for its I-90 widening project. But once finished, the agency wants the Crystal Springs site to go quiet, to avoid adding more human activity to the area.
Year-round recreation is not compatible with animals that would be spooked from the crossings, agency biologists wrote in comments to State Parks.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service all oppose further development at the site, along with the transportation department.
Painter said the response from the agencies shows the department’s process is working. The idea was to put the proposed development sites out for public comment, and see what came back.
“There was quite a lot of concern and comment voiced, so the director decided this was not the best candidate to move forward at this time,” Painter said.
So far the other proposals are still slated for further consideration by the Parks Department in May. The public-comment period remains open on the other proposals.
White said he was pleased the partnerships built between the agencies and conservation groups that helped build the crossings remains invested in their success.
“We all have this common vision,” White said. “It makes you feel really good that we are on the right track. This could never have been done without these partnerships.
“This is more than a highway project.”
Jen Watkins of Conservation Northwest said, in a prepared statement, that she hopes collaboration can continue to envision a better future for the property.
“We are pleased that State Parks heard the alarm bells that rang in surprise and response to their development proposal at Crystal Springs,” Watkins said. “By withdrawing this proposal from consideration, we hope the agency engages the organizations and citizens that raised concerns through comment letters to develop a new plan for this property that improves its current condition for recreation and wildlife.”