Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor | More on PenMet’s plans for the DeMolay Sandspit

Posted on February 27th, 2024 By: Craig McLaughlin

I want to thank Ed (Friedrich) for his excellent summary of PenMet’s developing plans for the DeMolay Sandspit.


PenMet created an Advisory Committee of stakeholders and has held two public meetings.   I was selected by the FICRA Board to be on the Advisory Committee.  I attended all four Committee meetings, both public meetings, and the study session.

The Pierce Conservation District project

It’s important to note that the Pierce Conservation District (“PCD”) Project was presented to PenMet back in 2021.  The PCD hired experts to develop alternative plans to bring the DeMolay property back to its natural state AT NO COST TO PENMET.  The PCD scheduled three meetings, but only two were held.  For some reason, PenMet walked away.  Maybe when this became public, PenMet rediscovered the potential advantages of having this work done?  There are some funding gaps, but the PCD person in charge is confident they will find that funding.

Park host program

PenMet always says it listens to its constituents—just look at the public meetings.  But do they really?  At both public meetings there were numerous comments (many from neighbors of the DeMolay property) asking PenMet to bring back the Park Host program it terminated in 2021.

As the FICRA representative and as a Fox Island resident, it was obvious to me that this request was important to many.  I talked to Derrick Eberle, the lead consultant, and requested that, during the demo phase, he at least consider burying conduit to provide electricity, water, internet, and septic for a future Park Host.  Derrick was very agreeable saying it would be easy to do.

At the fourth Advisory Committee, Derrick showed where the utilities would be installed, and there was no provision for a Park Host location.  Derrick was told not to include the preparatory work for a Park Host location.  PenMet’s representative on the Committee, Barry Shields, also told me that PenMet’s decision to not bring back the Park Host was final.  So much for listening…

Why is PenMet doing this?

Let’s remember that the DeMolay property is a nature preserve.  And, let’s remember that the PCD is returning the property to its natural state.  Given that, a second comment came up at both public meetings:  “Why is PenMet even doing this?”  PenMet refuses to answer this question.

Flawed planning process?

 PenMet signed the consultant contract before they formed the Advisory Committee and well before the first public meeting.  Once that contract (for $341,000) was signed, the time for listening to constituents, in large part, was already gone.  No time was spent at the Advisory Committee meetings or at the public meetings on the advisability of this project.

Two lots south of the DeMolay site — why?

PenMet is trying to purchase two residential lots immediately south of the DeMolay site.  They’ve set aside $303,000 to qualify for matching grant funds.

The consultants have no idea what to do with those two lots.  One has to ask, “Why is PenMet working so hard to buy those two lots?”  This is especially true when you look at the large area immediately north of Gig Harbor that is in PenMet’s park district and yet has no parks whatsoever.  Why spend hundreds of thousands on property in an area where a PenMet property already exists?

$341,000 for consultants and $303,000 in matching funds?  Adds up doesn’t it?  Maybe these funds could be used to help install a public pool that so many have been asking for…maybe at Peninsula Gardens?  I’d support that. 

Total cost of the project

Ed correctly said there is a $1.9M budget for this project—that includes the consultant fees.  The construction budget was $1.55M.  The consultants presented a $3.25M construction estimate to the Advisory Committee—more than twice the budgeted amount.  The consultants made cuts to get to $1.9M—still well over PenMet’s construction budget.  At the Study Session, Derrick proposed a Phase 1 with a $1.5M budget.  On budget, but Phase 1 means more to come.

Serious conditions yet to be addressed

There are potential issues yet to be addressed:

  • The DeMolay rights might impact PenMet’s plans for the property
  • The Washington State Recreation & Conservation Office has 20 pages listing rights it holds from the purchase funding it provided
  • Pierce County’s right of way is a significant issue
  • Emergency vehicle access
  • Contamination from vehicles in the parking lot
  • Lack of a retention pond
  • Archaeological issues

These issues may prove not to be issues, but here’s the key point:  None of them have been addressed based on what has been divulged to the Advisory Committee!

I was disappointed when the Commissioners asked no questions at the Study Session about the potential impact of these issues.  I believe the proper time to address these issues was before the Consultant contract was signed and $341,000 committed.

Craig McLaughlin

Fox Island

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