While the city will be celebrating an “unanticipated” financial windfall at its Monday council meeting, I will be mourning irretrievable loss. The city just received a grant of $2,225,000 for road development for the Mahogany/Arctic Road project, referred to as the city’s “new economic development area.” (AG Bill 20296.) The city agenda bill fails to reflect the common public name for this project, but you probably know it as the new Costco building. With a prior state grant of $1,250,000, the public is generously contributing $3.5 million in state transportation funds to help Costco built its new 20 acre dream home.
But this reflects only a small part of the costs, financial and environmental, of allowing Costco to expand to a greenfield location. Costco insists that it must convert the entire 20 acre development site into impervious surface, with no area left for on-site mitigation. As a result, thirteen existing wetlands will be filled, requiring an off-site wetland mitigation project. Additional land, which also contains wetlands and habitat, will be destroyed for a new off-site regional stormwater facility that will manage the stormwater run-off from the Costco construction.
In case you are counting, that is one development and two off-site wetland mitigation projects. That is a pretty high environmental cost, particularly when off-site wetland mitigation is famous for its high rate of failure. It is unlikely that these off-site wetland projects will be successful, not only because the city code requirements were not adequately applied during the SEPA review, but because the city lacks a comprehensive conservation plan to identify areas that are most suitable for restoration.
As per normal city practice, the wetland mitigation is being sited where it is most convenient. In this case, that is next to existing mitigation for Cordata park, close to heavy development and 1-5. City staff asserts that the mitigation will benefit wildlife, and this may be true as it pertains to fish. But it is patently false for other local wildlife species. The city’s own 1995 and 2003 Wildlife and Habitat Assessment and Report by Ann Eissinger refers to habitat intercepted by 1-5 as a “death trap” for wildlife. If off-site mitigation projects are permitted, then they must be sited in locations with the greatest likelihood of success in protecting biodiversity, and this is not near I-5 and other areas with large, heavily used roads.
But the primary means of protecting wildlife and critical areas, as reflected in state and local mitigation sequencing requirements, is to avoid the impacts altogether. In other words, sometimes, and perhaps frequently, the city must begin saying no. I believe that the city has done a poor job of enforcing this requirement, particularly under the current administration
How can you help? By voting with your wallet. I know that I will not be supporting the new Costco, or any other business that sells products with an undisclosed, but very real, and extremely high price tag.