Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor | Is the DeMolay Sandspit really ‘developed’ property?

Posted on April 2nd, 2024 By: Craig McLaughlin

The PenMet Board, at its last meeting, and Steve Nixon in an email to a resident living in the district both stated that the newly adopted Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve Master Plan is a plan simply to improve on what is already “developed” land.  That seems to be contradictory to the property’s name (which I believe PenMet itself provided) which includes the words “Nature Preserve.”  So, which is it?  Already developed or a nature preserve?

In one Letter to the Editor, I only have space to address one third party that has rights regarding the DeMolay property (there are several others).  Let’s start with the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (“RCO”).  The RCO funded half the purchase price of the Sandspit, and in exchange placed restrictions on the property.  Let’s look at those restrictions to see if they help determine if the Sandspit is a nature preserve or a developed property in the State’s opinion.

It appears that PenMet is relying on the fact that there were structures on the property at the time of purchase. There is no support for that position because Section 22F of the Standards and Conditions, a part of the WWRP Project Agreement (“Agreement”) specifically states that two of these buildings were to be removed: The caretaker house and the bunkhouse (leaving only the small storage shed).  It seems that PenMet is in breach of this provision.  The caretaker house was only removed last year and PenMet has yet to remove the bunkhouse — after 14 years of ownership.  To now claim that the property is developed because it had three buildings on it, two of which should have been removed years ago, is disingenuous at best.  What PenMet is saying is: “Since we didn’t fulfill our obligations we agreed to at the time of purchase, we can now rely on our breach to support our rights to substantially change the appearance and character of the Sandspit.”  I doubt the RCO will agree with PenMet’s assertion.

The Agreement also states that any “…land disturbing activities…” are subject to what is now Governor’s Executive Order 21-02.  More on this below.  The Agreement states that “…(PenMet) further agrees that ground disturbing activity will not occur until RCO has been notified and determines if a cultural resources review is needed.”  Has PenMet notified the RCO?  If so, they did not inform the Advisory Committee of this fact.  If so, where do those talks stand?

Governor’s Executive Order 21-02 requires PenMet to involve the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (“DAHP”) “…early in the project planning process…”  Has PenMet, now that it has adopted its final plan after months of work, notified DAHP?  If so, they’ve kept that very quiet.  If so, where do these talks stand?  Did they begin “early” in the process?

Interesting that the word “Development” is defined in the Agreement as follows:

The construction of or work resulting in new elements, including but not limited to structures, facilities, and/or materials to enhance outdoor recreation, salmon recovery or habitat conservation resources.

Does PenMet’s final plan enhance the existing “habitat conservation resources?”  Or does it damage them?

Finally, under the Agreement, there is a provision dealing with the construction, operation, use, and maintenance of the Sandspit.  That provision states that PenMet must properly operate, use, and maintain the Sandspit “Throughout its estimated life so as to prevent undue deterioration.”  Do you think PenMet has complied with this provision over the last 14 years?

Is the Sandspit a developed property?  Do the two ineligible buildings that PenMet should have removed years ago justify PenMet making massive changes to the Sandspit?  I’ll let you answer those questions for yourself.

Craig McLaughlin

Fox Island

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