(The “surprise” of this post is the decision last Friday by Langley Planner Jeff Arango to require an outside “third party” to monitor all mitigation (plantings, etc.) on the Kwarsick/McNeil and Atwood properties on Minnie Lane, at the edge of the Fossek wetland. The Mayor agreed to go along in order to get “closure.” Here’s how it went down.) You can read Part 1 by clicking here.
Mother nature is a tremendous force that can spread disease, collapse cities, swamp shorelines, burn thousands of acres of forests, and create and destroy entire species of animals. But often she seems alone and helpless, vulnerable and unprotected from unwanted human advances. That’s where the Department of Ecology comes in. And planners, lawmakers, activists, and researchers.
Part 1 of this story relates how in 2006 Langley Planner Alice Schisel sought advice from the Department of Ecology’s Susan Meyer, who identified a rough, but specific plan for the Atwood property, with planted islands of vegetation and a ten-year monitoring plan. Alice Schisel moved on, and over the years Langley Planners Larry Cort and Fred Evander handled Larry Kwarsick’s requests to remove and modify requirements. Let’s just say the plan was watered down, so to speak. And, ultimately, the plan and permit were approved for Kwarsick’s client (his stepdaughter), even though wasn’t officially signed by anyone. Then five months ago, when he was the Planning Director, and within days of becoming Mayor on Jan. 1, Kwarsick sought and received from Jeff Arango a signature and approval for his own application.
Arango did nothing wrong, but seriously, I believe the adults should’ve known better. Schisel, Cort, and Evander were long gone, and Arango was new on the job with very limited knowledge of the 5-6 year saga. At the end, Kwarsick was the last man standing.
All along, I wanted this story to be fair, so they would know where I was going. I emailed ten questions to Kwarsick and Arango. Arango answered them in writing. I followed up on the phone to clarify some points. I wanted to avoid surprises.
I also spoke at length on the phone with Mayor Kwarsick about his two projects. To tell the truth, he did almost all the talking. He shared that he is “proud” of the mitigation work that’s completed on the Atwood property, and reported that “two…no three….of the phases are complete.” I asked if he thought it was appropriate for Jeff Arango to sign the final approval of his development plan, given that he “supervised” Arango. Kwarsick said he has no problem with his employee signing off on the complicated plan. I pointed out his persistence in removing numerous “conditions” on both applications, and he told me this is the normal ‘give and take’ of the process. I said it didn’t look good. That was about it.
Honestly, I can’t tell at this point exactly what the plan is, or how much is complete. Moreover, I’ve suggested to both Arango and Kwarsick that final approvals and monitoring might best be provided by disinterested third parties. Until recently, they both vehemently disagreed, claiming the process is legit.
Then, last Friday, I received an email “update” from Jeff Arango, saying he’d changed his mind after conducting an on-site inspection of the Atwood property. Here’s what he wrote me (edited) on Friday 4/5/12:
So, the city (me) will be requesting a monitoring report (on Atwood) that addresses very specifically how the mitigation plan is being satisfied (reviewed by a third party). I still can’t explain the December 2010 “decision” that says the mitigation plan is complete (unsigned). I’m working on the specific requirements and am glad to share once completed………A third party review of the mitigation plan for 350 Minnie Lane (Kwarsick/McNeil) will also be required.
Within a few hours, while I was still digesting this turn-of-events (requirement of third party monitoring), I received a second email—this time from Mayor Kwarsick. Here’s what he wrote:
Skip – I will glad (sic) agree to a third party review of the final mitigation plan for our future house. While I believe we have done everything correctly I also acknowledge that I have a greater burden than others. I would even be glad to sit down with Steve and Marriane (sic) to discuss the objectives of the plan so that the third party has a clear understanding to avoid a continuation of these discussions. I would rather spend my time and energy toward a resolution then living with the bad karma generated by the current situation. If this will bring closer (sic) I am all in.…..The Atwoods will most certainly work with Jeff and complete their mitigation and monitoring obligations again which I believe are beyond the standard requirement but because they are connected to me they share in the burden. I will only advise Jeff on the intent of the plan and the work to date with absolutely no oversight in his decision making process and future requirements. (bold added)
Then the “marimba” tone played on my Iphone and it was the Mayor. He just wanted to personally reiterate his comfort with third-party monitoring of the mitigation plans on both properties. Because just two hours earlier Arango had informed me of this fait accompli, my reaction was, “Isn’t that Jeff Arango’s decision?”
“Well, yes..,” the Mayor responded. It was kind of a moot point since Arango had finally dropped the hammer, and Kwarsick was left to simply react—a position he’s not often in, I think it’s fair to say.
Kwarsick mainly wanted me to know that that he feels he “has a target” on his back and therefore must meet higher than normal standards for mitigation and monitoring to avoid “living with the bad karma generated by the current situation.” Holy cow.
I’m thinking some of these hats have to come off. The Mayor can’t be the planner, the consultant, the owner, the family member, the wetland expert, the monitor, and the “decider” on everything. Will the Mayor let Planner Arango do his job, “going forward?” Common sense and ethical considerations demand it, target or no target on his back.
(I want to acknowledge the valuable contributions to this post by Marianne Edain of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. However, any errors belong solely to me. Note: The mayor’s email refers to “Steve,” intending Steve Erickson of WEAN, who did not participate in this report.)