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Federal Way wants to buy 17-acre wetlands property

A King County grant could help Federal Way purchase and subsequently conserve 17.26 acres of wetlands in Spring Valley.

The city applied for a $400,000 King County Conservations Futures 2012 grant in an effort to purchase two parcels of property near 8th Avenue South in Spring Valley (in southern Federal Way, near Todd Beamer High School). Critical wetland habitat is found on the land, city spokesman Chris Carrel said. If awarded the money, the city will pull $400,000 from its street water management division to match the grant, surface water manager Will Appleton said.

“Ultimately, it allows for the long-term preservation of that property,” he said.

The owners of the 17.26 acres, David and Lori Bridges, have shown an interest in selling their property to the city for conservation, Carrel said. The Bridges could not be reached for comment. Carrel said the land features several tributaries and springs that are essential to wetland wildlife.

“Those become very important spawning grounds for Coho salmon and Chum salmon,” he said.

A land assessment and negotiation will take place preceding a purchase, assuming the city scores the grant money and the owners are still interested in selling their land.

History of conservation

The conservation effort is part of the larger Hylebos Creek Project. The project began in 2003 and aims to conserve, through purchase by the city, fragile properties located in the West Hylebos Creek corridor in the area from the Hylebos Wetlands Park south through Spring Valley.

“The city’s long had a commitment to conservation and protection of the Hylebos Creek,” Carrel said.

The city has made three Spring Valley purchases as part of the conservation effort. Another nine parcels, amounting to 51.51 acres (not including the Bridges’ land), are on a list of properties the city is interested in purchasing sometime in the undetermined future. The nine parcels are owned by seven separate individuals or families. Acreage ranges from 1.19 acres to 15.2 acres.

The city, over the years, has had conversations with many of the property owners whose land the city would like to acquire. Conversations between the property owners and the city take place when the city has funding to purchase properties in the area, or when property owners show an interest in selling their land to the city in an effort to conserve it.

Since the Hylebos Creek Project began, the city has obtained $1.1 million in King County Conservation Futures grant money.

Most recently, in 2010, the city bought 7.15 acres for $252,124 from Ruth Enticknap with assistance from such grant money.

If Federal Way gets the 2012 King County grant and money is leftover after the purchase of the Bridges’ land, the city may contact other Spring Valley landowners and see if they are interested in selling, Carrel said.

Protecting against development

The majority of the city council and Mayor Skip Priest view the Hylebos Creek Project as a necessary investment in the city’s future. Councilman Jim Ferrell said at a March 15 city council meeting that he fondly remembers growing up in Spring Valley and playing near the creek. Ferrell said it’s a wise choice to preserve the wetlands and protect them from future development.

“It’s an investment in our future,” he said.

Priest said this is an example of an area in which the council and the city have practiced foresight and taken action to conserve open space and fragile habitat.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar was the only council member to vote, on March 15, against seeking the grant funding for acquisition purposes. Kochmar said the properties are already zoned to limit the type and extent of construction. Kochmar said the properties are unlikely to be developed.

Many of the properties contain residences, Carrel said. Zoning prohibits how the land can be used, but some of the properties are zoned in a way that permits more building, Carrel said.

Residents could build a bigger home, and some have enough property to build a second residence, he said.

Even without more development on the land, the management of the wetlands area will likely vary under city ownership compared to private ownership, Carrel said. If the city owned the properties, it could, for example, remove buildings on the land, making way for restoration of the original wetlands habitat and the long-term environmental health of the land, he said.

Ultimately, the Spring Valley land bought and conserved by the city could be opened to the public in the form of a trail system, possibly similar to that found in the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, or other educational projects, Appleton said.

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