17 Little League fields endangered - The diamonds were built on farmland, and the county says they'll have to go unless the law can be changed to allow them

By Yoshiaki Nohara
HeraldNet Writer

June 14, 2004

SNOHOMISH, WA- About 1,370 children belonging to the North and South Snohomish Little Leagues were scheduled to wrap up their regular season this weekend.

But they may have to do so earlier next year - for good.

Both leagues, which have 17 baseball fields just east of the city, recently learned from Snohomish County that they shouldn't have built the fields on farmland because it's against state law.

Barring a change in law before May 31, 2005, they will have to quit playing baseball there.

"I think it's going to be an absolute tragedy for the community and children to lose the fields," said Karen Triplett, who has two boys playing in the South Snohomish Little League.

The South Snohomish league serves about 750 children, said Terry Albrecht, the league's president. The league could be fined $250 a day if its seven fields built about five years ago remain after May 31, 2005. The South Snohomish league is trying to decide how to react to the county's notice, Albrecht said.

One thing is for sure, he said, "there's no other place to play" in the county, and his group can't afford any land other than farmland as growth continues to consume affordable land.

Tom Aichele, a vice president of the North Snohomish Little League, whose annual budget is about $100,000, agreed.

The North Snohomish league, which serves about 620 children, used to own 12 acres near Harvey Airfield, Aichele said. But a controversy over the access road to the land forced it to sell the property to the state for $450,000.

Last summer, the North Snohomish league bought 24 acres of farmland for $240,000 and invested $260,000 to build 10 fields and other facilities, such as bleachers and fences.

The league had no reason to doubt it couldn't do so, Aichele said. Just across the street, the South Snohomish league's fields already existed. And, the County Council seemed confident the law could be changed to allow ball fields to be built on agricultural lands.

"We didn't feel like there was any risk," he said.

But the state law remained unchanged, Aichele said.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed because that would've made everything fine," he said.

But why did the county allow the baseball fields be built on the farmland in the first place?

"I can't answer that question," said Mark Funk, a spokesman for County Executive Aaron Reardon. "It happened before Aaron took office."

The county executive is aware of the need for youth athletic fields in the county, Funk said. Reardon will support a change in state law during the Legislature's next session in 2005 so that athletic fields would be allowed on agricultural lands, he said.

The North Snohomish league will do the same, Aichele said.

"We don't have an option," he said. "Our only option is to stay there."

But the effort is likely to face opposition from environmental groups such as 1,000 Friends of Washington.

John Healy, the group's communication director, said the group supports more ball fields. But the county should build them without using scarce farmlands, Healy said. "Once you destroy farmland, it's gone forever," he said.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.



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