City gives Wal-Mart the nod

POULSBO — The argument that stormwater ponds at the Olhava site should not be full of water was the factor that kept the Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart’s hopes alive for one last night.

POULSBO — The argument that stormwater ponds at the Olhava site should not be full of water was the factor that kept the Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart’s hopes alive for one last night.

But in the end, the contention simply didn’t hold water with enough council members.

At the seventh and final public hearing over the appeals July 31, motions by Wal-Mart Attorney John McCullough of McCullough, Hill, Fikso, Kretschmer & Smith to dismiss a SEPA appeal, EIS adequacy appeal and Olhava Site Plan 4A appeal were all upheld by council in four to two decisions. The appeals had been filed by the non-profit Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart in May.

At the announcement of the last council decision, Mayor Donna Jean Bruce thanked the members of CSW who stuck it out through the hearings, which began more than a month earlier on June 24.

“This has to be disappointing to you but you hung on however-many nights. If you don’t want to shop at Wal-Mart that’s fine but the city’s going to do all it can to make sure the environment is protected,” she commented.

Bruce’s continued comments were cut short, drowned out by the shouts of angry CSW members. The mayor rapped her gavel and abruptly pronounced the meeting adjourned.

“I’m disappointed,” commented CSW member Stephen Augustine of the verdict. “But I had a feeling that’s exactly how it was going to happen.”

In fact, CSW members had such a strong feeling about how they felt the proceedings would go that the leadership had already drafted a press release commenting on the defeat of the appeals.

“Our organization’s plans for the future include the possibility of taking further action to overturn these results,” the statement read. “We will also be continuing to work closely with all parties involved in overseeing the Olhava property to (ensure) that all the environmental issues are properly resolved.”

While CSW members have not concluded exactly what they will do, one known action will be for member Elizabeth Hutley to put her name in for a city council position. She planned to file Friday, as of Herald press time it was unsure which position she would contest.

Councilwomen Jackie Aitchison and Kathryn Quade stood alone in agreement with CSW’s appeals through the July 31 deliberations. Their arguments mainly hinged on their concerns over the changes to stormwater treatment that the appeals claimed constituted a major change to the EIS.

Aitchison commented that she was concerned that new issues like the Environmental Protection Act and Poulsbo’s recent application for its phase 2 stormwater permit might open the city up to lawsuits for allowing discharge into Johnson Creek.

“It’s not Wal-Mart that’s going to pay our legal fees. It’s not First Western that’s going to pay our legal fees. It’s the city and the taxpayers,” Aitchison commented, eliciting cheers from the CSW members present.

Quade added that she had public health concerns for the change of Olhava stormwater ponds from infiltration to retention models.

“Back in 1997-1998 we didn’t know about West Nile Virus. Standing ponds of water are a conducive environment to breed mosquitoes and this is a big concern for me,” she commented.

But dissenting council members concluded that while CSW had brought up some interesting arguments, they didn’t feel the non-profit had proven its case “by a preponderance,” as an appellant in such a proceeding is required to do by law.

Councilman Mike Regis commented that it was the place of the State Department of Ecology, and not the city council, to determine the viability of the site’s stormwater plans in regard to Johnson Creek. He further said he felt it was purely conjecture to say that the city could be sued over the issue since the DOE would be the deciding factor.

“The DOE will respond once the damage is done to Johnson Creek, I think it would be much better to be proactive to prevent damage to Johnson Creek,” Aitchison countered.

“I don’t believe the DOE sits by and waits for the sin to be committed. We have an obligation to fulfill also, but let’s understand what the obligation is,” Regis answered.

“The potential of a stormwater discharge into Johnson Creek could be a very real possibility and I feel this issue of the Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart’s argument has the most merit,” said Councilman Ed Stern in a written statement read into the record by City Clerk Karol Jones. “On the other hand, should this constitute a significant adverse impact we need to rely on the DOE stormwater manual and at this time the Olhava folks use the best available science whether we agree with it or not.”

Stern was absent from the July 31 proceedings due to a previously scheduled vacation.

“I believe there are things that can be done to protect Johnson Creek and that’s the only concern with me, everything else has been satisfied in my mind,” Councilman Jim Henry commented. “I recommend we deny this approval. They’ve made a good case but they haven’t made their point.”

“I don’t think there’s anything that came out of nowhere to say we should uphold the appeal,” Councilman Dale Rudolph added. “We should all be concerned with Johnson Creek and all the rest of the development up there but we have no basis to add further requirements.”

City Attorney Jim Haney is expected to bring the written findings and conclusions from this hearing back to the council for approval at its Aug. 20 meeting. Until that time, council members are still under a quasi-judicial circumstance and cannot comment further on the issue.

The July 31 Public Hearing will be replayed on Bremerton Kitsap Access Television (channel 12) at 3 p.m. today, 9 a.m. Aug. 5 and 9:30 p.m. Aug. 6