By Gary Smith
The long history of Water Tenders’ efforts to protect and restore Bear Creek is mirrored on the waterway itself, starting at the headwaters more than 25 years ago and coursing all the way down to the confluence with the Sammamish River. Following that 2014 rehabilitation project on Lower Bear Creek, new chapters are now being written off the main-stem, in the tributaries and side-channels of the creek. Among these recent successes is restoration work on Mackey Creek (see separate article in this newsletter). And here’s another story—not yet so successful—about Evans Creek where it runs along the historic Red Brick Road near Union Hill Road. East of the road and the creek, the 125-acre area called Gunshy Manor was long-ago cleared for pastures with negative ecological effects, and now—worse yet—the owners are preparing their property for a housing development.
Neighbors along 196th Avenue NE (Red Brick Road) are protesting the development, and with the support of Water Tenders and other environmental groups, have succeeded in bringing attention to its adverse effects, especially on native fish. The key species, of course, is the ESA-listed Chinook; also of local interest is the Sockeye, which may be a unique native sub-population in the Bear Creek watershed. Over the years these neighbors have documented numerous fish sightings there, and in addition Hans Berge, King County’s fish biologist, made this report in 2013: “I found two chinook last year in Evans Trib 108.” (Note: that tributary flows through the proposed Gunshy Manor–see Evans Creek Tributary 108 map online.) In keeping with these recent findings, the county summarized the history of salmon in the area: “Evans Creek is home to Chinook as well as substantial populations of Coho and Sockeye salmon” (King County, 1990a).
That passage regarding salmonids comes from the county’s manual, Evans Creek Natural Area Site Management Guidelines. Since that county-designated preserve is adjacent to Gunshy Manor, it protects Evans Creek from property development upstream for almost a mile. But downstream, this new project could impact fish as well as neighborhood houses and Arthur Johnson Park. Any SEPA report would have to account for the de-watering of wetlands, water quality effects, and the hydrological disturbance caused by roads and other impermeable surfaces on the property.
There are numerous land-use issues in play here, requiring another look back at the history of the property. In the 60 years since Gunshy Manor was purchased by the current owners, satellite photos provide evidence of numerous land-clearing/filling projects with the effect of wiping out natural vegetation and altering water-flows. This was in keeping with the family business of livestock farming, but in recent years the owners have stepped up development work, building French drains, ditches, and roadways (dikes) to de-water (dry out) wetlands and provide better access. The purpose of this recent work was clarified in 2014 when the owners applied to King County for a permit and provided preliminary plans for 25 homes in a luxury gated community.
The land is zoned RA-5 Rural Area, so the entire acreage could theoretically allow for that many homes. However, given the slopes and wetlands onsite, the owners had to ask the King County for “clustered development” in exchange for set-asides on land that should already be designated critical areas. The county was not opposing this development, but as a result of scrutiny applied to the property, the federal Environmental Protection Agency investigated “the alleged discharge of dredged or fill material” into Evans Creek. The owners withdrew their pre-application after EPA’s enforcement action began, and in June 2016, following a year and a half of negotiation, they reached a settlement for violations of EPA’s Clean Water Act – see http://tinyurl. com/epa-gunshymanor.
Local environmentalist groups are still evaluating the settlement and are looking closely at the county’s subsequent action. The Muckleshoot tribe made a detailed critique of the settlement and concluded, “the mitigation as proposed is inadequate for impacts to salmon and their habitats” (excerpt from the Tribe’s opinion, submitted to the public record by Karen Walters on July 25, 2016,). As part of any future permit, the various groups demand that the county enforce certain remediation steps:
1. Remove roads and fill material built within wetlands and wetland buffers.
2. Remove electric pump and French drain installed in one of the wetlands.
3. Remediate/re-meander the tributary now entering Evans Creek as a “farm ditch.”
These features are all annotated in the aerial photo and close-ups. Note that these pictures focus on the 40-acre parcel closest to the creek, clearly showing that the owners’ development work is within critical areas and/or their buffers. Remediation is necessary to stop ongoing damage that will continue in perpetuity – again quoting from the Tribe’s statement on July 25th: “To do otherwise will perpetuate the existing degrading habitat conditions caused by unpermitted work and potentially grandfather these conditions as these parcels redevelop.”
When the current pause in the permitting process is over, presumably by the end of this year, the owners may re-apply or may simply sell to a developer, who knows? Water Tenders should be among the groups keeping close watch on Gunshy Manor.
Note for our watch-list: Evans Creek is under the state’s Bear-Evans Watershed Water Quality Implementation Plan of 2006. But it is not currently covered in the Scope of Work for the Bear Creek Watershed–Scale Stormwater Plan. According to the county, “The Evans Creek basin (a tributary to Bear Creek) is not included in King County’s selection.”