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Protests halts development

"For property owner Steve Austin, a plan to build his proposed Creekside Plaza, with a restaurant, office complex and animal hospital next to Clear Creek at Dye's Inlet finally was beginning to come together.But the county's development office brought it to a screeching halt when it withdrew a State Environmental Policy Act study on the area after the Suquamish Tribe filed an appeal. The tribe claims that the development would negatively impact chinook salmon in the creek.The mandatory public hearing for Austin's project was postponed indefinitely while the county Department of Community Development reviews his SEPA, said Darryl Piercy of the planning office.At issue is the wetlands' classification, and Austin's proposed 115-foot buffer and setback between the development and the creek, said Piercy. In the withdrawn SEPA the area is classified as a Class 2 wetlands, requiring a 100-foot setback, with a 15-foot construction buffer, Piercy said.The tribe said the area is a Class 1 wetland, an area of salt-water influence with adjacent areas of fresh-water wetlands, Piercy said.The tribe's appeal holds the requirement is 200 feet, with the 15-foot construction setback.We want to reevaluate our determination based on the information from the tribe, Piercy said. Our plans are to call in the (state) Department of Ecology to evaluate the issues of the type of wetland.Meanwhile, Austin's project is on indefinite hold.I really don't know what happens from here, he said. I have a meeting with Bruce Freeland, director of the Department of Community Development. I won't know 'til then how much of a setback will be required.He said his plan included a larger buffer than other projects on the creek, and any call for more by the county would make his project unfeasible.Apart from the Suquamish Tribe's appeal, Austin said his big problem has been with delays by the county for the required public hearings.We were promised to have a public hearing the first Thursday of August, he said. But they were waiting for the county to fill out the SEPA report, so the date was bumped to the first week of September, then to Sept. 27. Then the Suquamish Tribe filed their appeal.Austin feels the county didn't do its homework.We had our wetland determination in in March, he said.He believes the appeal is absolutely bogus.If that's a Class 1 wetland, the county wouldn't be able to put in the proposed bridge, they wouldn't be able to widen Bucklin Hill Road, and they wouldn't be able to do anything in the (Old Mill site) park but plant grass, he said.He said the tribe just read our report and fought it.Not so, said tribe spokeswoman Phyllis Meyers.We have a biologist on staff who had wetland training, and we're pretty familiar with that area, she said.She said the county made a mistake, and needs to require an environmental impact statement on the area.I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about the tribe's involvement with this and other developments, she said. It's not that the Suquamish have singled out this project for any reason. The regulations haven't changed ... what's changed is the way they apply, since chinook salmon are in Clear Creek, she said.Chinook were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act about a year ago.The setback is not consistent for the regulations required, Meyers noted.We're not pushing for a new or different rule. We just want what's in the books implemented. "

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