Shoreline trail heads for hearing showdown

By Ashley Bach
Seattle Times Eastside bureau


King County, WA - Nothing says frustration more than the battle over the East Lake Sammamish Trail. King County, Sammamish and residents along the proposed path have waged a bitter, four-year dispute over permits, land use and property rights.

Beginning today, all of the parties will find themselves in a room near downtown Sammamish, arguing their case before a hearing examiner. At issue is an environmental permit the city granted last spring to King County.

The permit put the 11-mile trail one step closer to reality, but the city required the county to install expensive stream culverts and wetlands vegetation. The county says the measures are much too expensive, at $1 million, while the city says the requirements are reasonable and would cost no more than $700,000.

Hearing starts today

King County, Sammamish and a neighborhood association will go before hearing examiner John Galt today at 9 a.m. in an appeal of an environmental permit for the East Lake Sammamish Trail. The hearing is at the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District office, 1510 228th Ave. S.E. It will last about a week and run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days.

Residents along the trail also have weighed in. They say the permit was granted without consideration for alternative routes for the trail that would be safer for the environment. They also argue that the culverts and vegetation the city required are justified.

All of these arguments will meld into an intensive hearing, expected to last a week, that will feature 250 exhibits and as many as 40 witnesses. The parties, including a family that opposes the permit, will have six hours each to present their cases, but cross-examination will have no time limit.

City and county officials say they never wanted the dispute to come to this. They say they want the trail built, though they've never quite agreed on the details since Sammamish incorporated in 1999.

Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici said any decision the hearing examiner makes probably will be appealed by somebody and that the process will continue to drag on.

"We issued a permit, and we feel like we're on a very solid basis," he said. "We'd like to move this project forward."

Elaine Kraft, spokeswoman for County Executive Ron Sims, said Redmond and Issaquah, through which the trail also runs, didn't require the same environmental measures as Sammamish officials.

"We felt what they were asking was extreme compared to any other jurisdictions," she said.

The residents, who formed the East Lake Sammamish Community Association to fight the trail alignment, say they're glad to get an official hearing of their views.

"I think it's ... a showdown," said Reid Brockway, the association's secretary. "Up until now, the county has been something of a juggernaut achieving one milestone after another without a challenge."

The $1.8 million project would turn an old railroad corridor along the east side of Lake Sammamish into an interim gravel path. The corridor bisects many private properties, raising concerns among residents.

Eventually, a wider asphalt trail would be built to accommodate bike riders, skaters and equestrians, county officials said.

The hearing likely won't be the final chapter in the trail's bumpy road to construction. The residents, for one, have discussed appealing any unfavorable decision in King County Superior Court, Brockway said.

After the hearing ends, likely next week, the hearing examiner is expected to make a decision within a few weeks.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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