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Islanders say transfer station impact study is subjective, inclusive, inconsistent

It might be easy to dismiss the outpouring of criticism as classic N.I.M.B.Y.-ism.

But then again, what does one make of an environmental impact statement — even if it is a "draft" — in which traffic on San Juan Island's two most heavily-traveled roads is categorized as "low"? Or, which compares possible impacts on five properties by using a "conceptual layout" that under current zoning would be prohibited on four of the five?

Moreover, how does one weigh the investment needed to offset whatever hurdles and impacts might lay in store when there's no calculation of the costs?

Those are just a sample of shortcomings leveled last week at the draft environmental impact statement of the San Juan Island solid-waste transfer station replacement project. A public hearing on that "draft" drew about 50 islanders to the Mullis Community Senior Center on Sept. 11.

More than 20 took advantage of its airing to comment on its contents.

Few were impressed.

Jack Yelverton, a neighbor of the Beaverton Valley Road site and a recent appointee to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, took issue with traffic studies and the groundwater analysis. In particular, he said, the traffic data appeared to be "highly subjective," inclusive and inconsistent.

Yelverton, a neighbor of the Beaverton Valley Road site, cited a professional background in preparing similar documents in adding weight to his claims.

"It's really a work of cutting and pasting with very little original work in it," he said.

David Cable, who lives near the Golf Course Road site, admitted he's no expert when it comes to a draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS. But he questioned how traffic on Cattle Point Road, arguably the island's busiest, could be labeled "low" when bicyclists, scooters and summer traffic are unaccounted for.

"This study does not make any distinction with regard to any of the sites or in regard to traffic safety or any of the issues that concerns us here on the island," Cable said.

Chris Clarke said the draft is "woefully lacking" in its study of noise, noting it does not account for the degree and distance which sound can travel.

Under state law, an environmental impact statement is required of any project whose impacts are determined to be significant. Five sites, including 33 acres on Sutton Road, the current location of the transfer station, are under consideration for a new and improved solid-waste transfer station. The DEIS lists no "significant adverse impacts" that can't be avoided or "mitigated" at any of the five locations.

In addition to Sutton Road, Beaverton Valley and Golf Course roads, a 21-acre parcel on Daniel Lane and 40 acres on Egg Lake Road are also being considered.

Michael MacDonald, a neighbor of the Beaverton Valley Road site, a 27-acre parcel purchased three years ago by the county Public Works Department for $1.8 million, insists that information in the draft has been "cherry picked" so as to favor that location in the upcoming selection process.

MacDonald, who, like Yelverton, was recently appointed to the SWAC, claims the DEIS is insufficient in its rigor and scope, and that it does not comply with state standards.

Members of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, whose choice of sites will be consider by the County Council in determining the final selection, began deliberations Monday in a prelude to selecting its recommendation.

Meanwhile, Public Works late last week unveiled so-called "planning- level" cost estimates and funding options for developing a new transfer station at each of the five sites. Project Manager Steve Alexander said the estimates come with strong caveats.

"The cost estimates are useful for ballpark comparisons of site preparation and development costs," Alexander said. "But until a site is selected and we do actual engineering and facilities design work, it's impossible to give an accurate total project costs."

Accuracy, no doubt, will be foremost for most islanders when comments on the DEIS are addressed, the document is revised, and a "final" EIS is released for public comment sometime in December.

For more information, see "transfer station replacement project" at www.sanjuanco.com/publicworks/pw_index.aspx. Click here.

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