State looks to buy two Puget Sound islands
SWINOMISH RESERVATION — With towering old-growth cedars and Douglas fir and beaches and a lagoon used by salmon and trout leaving the Skagit River for the Pacific Ocean, Kiket and Flagstaff islands offer some of Puget Sound’s last undeveloped shorelines.
The grasslands on Flagstaff Island may look the same as they did in 1792, when Capt. George Vancouver explored Puget Sound, said Jack Hartt, manager of the nearby Deception Pass State Park. Hartt considers the islands gems, especially considering that most of the Sound’s 2,500 miles of shoreline is developed.
“There is almost no natural land that’s not developed,” Hartt said.
That may be why Kiket and Flagstaff owners, Wallace Opdycke and the Nancy Louise Corbin Living Trust, approached Washington State Parks roughly two years ago about buying the 96 acres that make up the two islands.
“If we didn’t buy it, they would sell it for development,” said Bill Koss, State Parks planning manager. “I can’t imagine a place that is so intact and one so easily accessed. You can drive to this.”
A narrow strip of land connects the two islands to the Swinomish Reservation on Fidalgo Island. Previous owners include Seattle City Light, which once proposed Kiket (pronounced kick-it) as a site for a nuclear power plant. The utility hired a biologist to survey the islands’ plants and wildlife.
When state officials began to considered buying the island, they hired the same scientist to return for another survey. The biologist reported that the islands were basically unchanged over the past 30 years, Koss said.
“There’s not many places in Puget Sound that are basically unchanged,” Koss said.
This past legislative session, State Parks has secured $4.5 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation grant program to buy the 96 acres from the living trust. The state has partnered with The Trust for Public Land to obtain another $8 million in federal grants and donations.
The state has until year’s end to close the deal. It’s possible that the land trust could become the state’s banker if the total amount hasn’t been raised, Koss said.
An appraisal is pending as of Tuesday, and a purchase price hasn’t been agreed to. Once the purchase is compete, the islands would become part of Deception Pass State Park. The land is still privately owned, and a gate and caretaker keep visitors away.
The proposed purchase has drawn heat from some Republican Party members, who say parks shouldn’t be spending money on land, especially when several parks are proposed for mothballing.
However, the $4.5 million is part of the $70 million Washington Wildlife and Recreation grant program, which is part of the state’s capital budget for the 2009-11 biennium. The amount of grants given has been reduced by 30 percent from the previous biennium.
Koss said most of the funds to buy Kiket and Flagstaff islands won’t come from state coffers, and land prices have dropped in recent months.
“We’ve had a lot more willing sellers now than we’ve had in the past,” Koss said.
Although the GOP may deride the pending purchase, other groups including the Skagit Audubon Society, the Skagit Watershed Council, Swinomish Indian Tribe and some people living near the islands support it.
Peter Dykstra, the San Francisco-based land trust’s Washington director, said that only 10 percent of the Sound’s shoreline is accessible by people without boats. Another 10 percent is tidelands or islands, and the remaining 80 percent is privately owned.
Purchasing the islands will give many people a chance to explore a unique environment with diverse wildlife and plant life, he said.
“If we’re going to recover Puget Sound and get all our community involved with that, they are going to have to have a place to go,” Dykstra said. “It’s really hard to get them to connect if they don’t have a place to go.”