Hearing examiner's ruling favors opponents of Lake Sammamish trail

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau


Snohomish County, WA - Trail opponents won a small victory yesterday in the controversy over the planned East Lake Sammamish Trail when a hearing examiner ruled that King County is not exempt from local environmental laws.

The decision sets the stage for a February trial that could determine the fate of the interim trail the county is trying to build on an old railroad bed.

Yesterday's decision by a Sammamish hearing examiner centers on rules for obtaining permits. When King County initially filed grading permits in 1999 to turn the old rail path into a temporary gravel trail, Sammamish was not incorporated. That meant the county was subject only to its own environmental requirements, which allow an exception to some rules if a trail is being built, said Mike Witek, attorney for the East Lake Sammamish Community Association, which filed the motion.

But when Sammamish incorporated in August 1999, the county had to send its exemption request to the city, which had stricter environmental requirements regarding streams and wetlands, Witek said.

The question was, could King County get permits under its old regulations, or was it subject to the new Sammamish rules?

Sammamish approved the county's request for permits and environmental exceptions but required about $1 million in extra environmental mitigation. King County appealed, and so did the community association, which argued there were less harmful alternatives to the county's interim-trail design.

It has been four years since King County taxpayers paid $3 million for the right to turn the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad corridor into the East Lake Sammamish Trail. The 10.6-mile route would serve as the missing link between the Mountains to Sound Greenway and the Sammamish River Trail, which connects to the Burke-Gilman Trail.

An interim 10-foot-wide gravel path was supposed to be opened this past summer. But disagreements between the county and nearby residents, some of whose property would be bisected by the trail, have kept the trail closed.

In his decision yesterday, hearing examiner John Galt essentially chose the set of rules Sammamish's environmental regulations versus the county's less stringent ones on which a February trial about the trail will be based, Witek explained. That trial will examine whether the county's interim-trail plan should be granted the environmental exemptions.


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