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Wal-Mart permit appeal is the focus of negotiations

POULSBO — While the Olhava property is speeding right along with new streets, its commercial development is still at a standstill.

But a deal is in the making over a stormwater permit appeal that might allow work to go forward.

Poulsbo residents Tom Anderson, Richard Boughner and Joan Hett filed an appeal of the Olhava Site 4A (Wal-Mart) stormwater permit with the Department of Ecology in August of last year. That action followed a tenuous year of arguments over the merits of the 216-acre site’s stormwater systems and environmental safety.

Action began last May when it was announced that Wal-Mart hoped to be the first retailer in the commercial space at Olhava. The proposed 19.8-acre development includes three-phases of construction, beginning with a 150,000-square-foot building. The company hoped to begin construction last summer and open sometime this year. But construction has thus far been held up by appeals. The first were filed last May and June over the entire site’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) permit, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) adequacy and Olhava Site Plan 4A by the local non-profit Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart. Those appeals were struck down by the Poulsbo City Council after several public hearings.

The current appeal by the trio of residents to the DOE was to be heard this month, however, that meeting date was cancelled at the request of Wal-Mart’s attorneys. The corporation’s representatives had earlier filed a motion for dismissal of the appeal with the Pollution Control Hearing Board, the result of which was the board agreeing with all but one of the appellants’ points.

“I think that kind of prompted them to want to talk,” Anderson said.

The DOE urges appellants to try and settle outside of hearings and in May, the three citizens met with Wal-Mart representatives to discuss the issues.

“We gave them a very informal list of things to begin talking about,” Anderson explained. “But as a result of the talks, we want to see some very firm, ironclad agreements from them.”

One issue is whether or not the area’s stormwater ponds are adequate. Following the October 2003 rains of a 100-year-storm level, two temporary stop work orders were placed on the site by the City of Poulsbo until more detention and retention fixes were added.

Site foreman George Hubbard of Scarsella admitted there was a steep learning curve when the heavy rains hit but said he felt everything that could have been done was.

He explained that for the undeveloped 206 acres, about 2,700 gallons of water are dropped for one inch of rain, so roughly 570,000 gallons of rainwater enter the site during a 1-inch rain event. The largest rain storm this winter was about six inches of rain.

“I learned how that site would behave in water like that and it still haunts me,” Hubbard said. “But we weathered the storm and I think we did OK.”

Another factor that city staff said prompted silty runoff during the heavy rains had to do with last year’s unusually dry summer. Crews had tried seeding the site for erosion control several times but were unable to get much to grow until after the major storm.

“Everything is pretty well grown in and within a month or so everything will have vegetation on it and that will help erosion and water problems,” Poulsbo field inspector Buzz Tefft said.

Tefft added the DOE has been very pleased with the work that’s occurred in the area lately and has given high marks on all its inspections of the site this year.

“The water is much cleaner now, it was just muddy before,” he said. “Now, in some of the ponds, the water’s so clear you can see the bottom.”

The ponds will be drained and cleaned of excess sediment sometime this summer.

But despite assurances, Anderson and Boughner, who have been focusing on stormwater issues, said they’d still like to see more done. Their requests to Wal-Mart included setting aside an account for any future remediation and using more stormwater-friendly building techniques like parking lot swales and semi-pervious and pervious pavers.

Another issue in the DOE appeal is that the proposed Wal-Mart location is a former Nike missile site. Hett, who has been working on the Nike issue, said her requests to Wal-Mart included more thorough testing of the site and a well monitoring regiment that would last up to 10 years.

“I’ve never been satisfied with the samples they’ve taken so far out there,” Hett said.

The next step is for the Wal-Mart representatives to confer with their clients and for another meeting to be set in the near future. In case the two parties aren’t able to come to an agreement, a new hearing date of January 2005 has been set. But Hett said she was hopeful for a settlement.

“I think they were well viewed, all of the things we were talking to the Wal-Mart attorneys about,” Hett commented. “I feel like they listened.”

First Western representative Mark Zenger did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

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