Not far from Interstate 5, a green heron swooped low across a still pond in Scriber Creek Park. An oasis of calm among the busy streets of Lynnwood, the park is also the center of emerging controversy over building the next link of Sound Transit light rail.
Purchased in 1991 with Conservation Futures funds, the 3.8-acre park was to be preserved for perpetuity. Enter Sound Transit and the Essential Public Facilities law, which allows the government to condemn and acquire property if it’s for building public transportation, prisons, highways, schools or other necessary facilities.
That’s the dilemma. Would the essential-services law override the law that set up funding for purchasing land for conservation?
Until last week, neither Sound Transit, the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Advisory Board nor Lynnwood city officials were aware that the park, which would be destroyed or seriously affected under two of the light-rail options, had been built with Conservation Futures funds.
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Linda Willemarck, Maryellen Walsh and Mary Monaghan, all of Lynnwood, and their Save Scriber Creek and Wetland group are determined to not let their beloved park — not to mention their homes — fall victim to light-rail expansion. So they’ve been circulating petitions, contacting elected officials, writing letters and talking to their community, asking people to join them in the fight.
That the park had been built with funds designating it for conservation “was not in our calculations,’’ said Matt Shelden, light-rail development manager. “We are going to take a look at it to see what it means for that alternative.”
Said Lynnwood City Council President Loren Simmonds: “I honestly don’t know how many of the current council … are aware of that, but they will be. I don’t think there is any alternative without its downside.’’
One of the other options brings trains near two hotels. “I don’t know how they’ll feel about running a hotel with trains close by,” Simmonds added.
To the women and their supporters, the only Sound Transit alternative that makes sense is C-3 in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). It doesn’t go through the park or the neighborhoods and costs less than one of the alternatives (but more than the other).
Lynnwood has yet to choose one site over the other.
But the pros and cons of the sites versus the city’s goals are what the council will discuss at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Saturday. In addition to the council meeting, Lynnwood officials are holding an extra meeting at 10 a.m. Sept. 14 to take public comments. Afterward they plan to endorse one of the sites, but ultimately the decision is Sound Transit’s.
“Tear down my condo, I can live with,” Willemarck said. But tearing down the park is another thing.
Willemarck and Walsh live in the Cedar Creek Condominiums adjacent to the park and say it feels like their backyard.
“A whole family of turtles came down our road the other day and tried to lay eggs in the rocks,’’ Walsh said.
Their entire 77-unit condominium complex would also be destroyed under one of the transit-center options.
“All three of us are in favor of public transportation,’’ Walsh said. “We just don’t want it to destroy our park and our neighborhood. These are not cute little San Francisco trolley cars snaking up the street.’’
While Monaghan had heard that the park was in jeopardy a year ago and started to raise the alert, it was only a couple of weeks ago that the others heard about it and joined her.
Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Somers, who is chairman of the county’s Conservation Futures board, just learned of the situation and theorizes that Sound Transit could condemn the property or Lynnwood could sell the property, but if either happened, the money would have to go back to the Conservation Futures fund.
“I think it would be a very high hurdle to get over” for Sound Transit, Somers said.
In 1991, Lynnwood received $250,000 in funding to match the city’s $106,000 to purchase what was known as the Scriber Creek Wetland.
The park was one of the first Conservation Futures purchases in Snohomish County.
How much influence the city or public will have on Sound Transit’s decision is up for debate.
During the past 10 years, Tukwila officials clashed with Sound Transit a number of times as the south link was being built. The city wanted a light-rail connection with Westfield Shopping Center and, among other things, threatened to withhold the necessary permits if Sound Transit didn’t comply. Sound Transit wanted the line closer to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The Essential Public Facilities law gave the city no real bargaining power, and Sound Transit prevailed.
Where public projects are concerned, Scriber Creek Park is small but beloved, the women say. Even the city’s comprehensive plan acknowledged that the city has few remaining places for wildlife.
The park’s trails connect it to the Interurban Trail and meander through ponds and a copse of cottonwood, spruce and maple. It’s a place where workers come to eat lunch, and residents — like the women who live nearby — love to walk.
The other day, they strolled along the trails, taking photos of birds.
Monaghan snapped one of the green heron.
“Did you see that?’’ she asked her friends as the bird lifted off the pond, and glided over the trees.
“I’ve become very attached to those birds,’’ Walsh said.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or email@example.com