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Shoring up a key wetland in Camas

After decades of neglect, maintenance of Lacamas Shores biofilter long overdue

By , Columbian politics reporter
Published: April 18, 2018, 6:01am
4 Photos
Sheryl Beauchaine of Vancouver walks her daughter’s dogs recently on Heritage Trail along Lacamas Lake. The biofilter in the lake has not been maintained for about 30 years, causing it to become overgrown with trees. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian
Sheryl Beauchaine of Vancouver walks her daughter’s dogs recently on Heritage Trail along Lacamas Lake. The biofilter in the lake has not been maintained for about 30 years, causing it to become overgrown with trees. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

CAMAS — In the 1980s, the Lacamas Shores biofilter was among the first of its kind in the nation. The system filters stormwater at the existing wetland before it enters Lacamas Lake using a system of French drains known as “bubblers,” filters and herbaceous grasses that collect any remaining toxins.

“It was a good design for that era,” said Camas City Administrator Pete Capell. “Unfortunately, little to no maintenance was done, and then things have overgrown. Where there was initially intended to be some grasses, trees have come up and it’s clearly not functioning the way it was intended.”

Some in the neighborhood want to clear out the trees that have grown in the wetland to restore views and, in theory, raise property values. Homes in the Lacamas Shores neighborhood list for $1 million or more.

Capell said improving a view and increasing home values can’t be used as justification to alter the wetland’s landscape.

“I understand why they are concerned about that, but that’s not a basis for just going in and cutting down trees,” he said. “If they’d been doing routine maintenance, we probably wouldn’t be in the dilemma today.”

The conflict has been brewing for years.

“This whole thing began in earnest four years ago, but in reality it goes back 18 years,” said Steve Bang, a Lacamas Shores resident and chairman of the neighborhood’s common area land use committee. “A group of us noticed that there was an issue, property values were being decreased. Over time, it migrated and changed into not only that but the fact the biofiltration system wasn’t working anymore.”

Stephen Nelson, former Lacamas Shores Homeowners’ Association president, said historically there was a push to clear-cut the wetland and remove the “dead litter” that rests atop the water.

“It’s where things happen,” Nelson said. “It’s what makes a wetland a wetland, and they don’t like that.”

The most dramatic proposals seem to have fallen by the wayside, but some people are still pushing to remove trees, Capell said. While the city figures out exactly what process the neighborhood must use to get the biofilter in good, working order, the Washington Department of Ecology has also become involved.

To make the case for tree removal, some neighbors say the wetland was artificially created as part of a stormwater facility. But as Rebecca Rothwell, a wetlands and shorelands specialist for the Department of Ecology points out, the wetlands clearly existed prior to the housing development. The original permit issued in 1988 allows manipulation to slow draining from the wetland to the lake if needed, but that does not include removing native vegetation, Rothwell writes.

“The assertion that the wetland is not a critical area is baseless,” she adds.

As the conversation has continued in the last several weeks, Bang said the situation has changed. For the most part, everyone seems to be on board with beginning to maintain the wetland. Two months ago, that wasn’t true, he added.

A group of residents are now working with the city to determine what process is required to begin maintenance of the wetland.

“Our position has been that you’ve got to go through the process for wetland and shoreline permitting,” Capell said. “They’ve provided additional information that they believe is convincing that they shouldn’t need to go through that process, but we haven’t made any determination with respect to that.”

If the process goes as the city imagines, the neighborhood will need to hire specialists to not only complete the maintenance but design a plan to move forward.

As it stands, Bang said, the neighborhood would like to clean up the lake and comply with regulations, but the situation remains unsettled.

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