Did You Know...
In the summer of 2007, developers Paul Thomas and Gary Strode posted forestland east of Granite Falls for a proposed motocross park. The Mountain Loop Conservancy opposes the project and would like to preserve the area. The following narrative outlines some of the features of the site and the impacts such a development would have on the area. We believe the applicants should be required to do a full Environmental Impact Statement to address some of these issues.
Public hearings related to the Granite Falls Motocross Park have been scheduled and then canceled on four separate dates over the last year. When the hearing does take place, it will be at the Snohomish County Courthouse located at 3000 Rockefeller Ave., 1st Floor Hearing Room, Admin. Bldg. East, Everett WA 98201.
Location and Mineral Resources
The proposed Granite Falls Motocross Park site is located 4.2 miles northeast of the city limits of Granite Falls by road. Seventy-five acres of the 437-acre site will be clear-cut for construction of the track and berm. The Mountain Loop Highway forms the southern boundary of the site. The Stillaguamish River and Bowers Pond are located nearby to the south. To the north of the site, lies Canyon Creek. Washington State owns land to the east (Department of Natural Resources and Department of Parks and Recreation). Masonic Park is west of the site. There are residences to the west, east, and southeast of the site. Since this area is part of a Mineral Resource Overlay (MRO), development is limited. Gravel mining is one of the main businesses in the greater Granite Falls area and there are two mines nearby. Though mining affects the immediate area of mineral extraction, it does not have the same kind of long-term impacts on noise levels, air quality, aquifer condition, emergency services, and traffic that a development such as a motocross track would have.
Historically, logging and mining played a major role in the local economy. In 1915, the Hartford Eastern rail line was created to help move timber logged in the Mountain Loop region back to the Lake Stevens area. The train route proved popular with tourists who enjoyed the mountain scenery and recreational opportunities. The upscale Big Four Inn was built in 1921 to serve the many visitors to the area. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the inn in 1949 (Oldham 2008).
Today, outdoor recreation is one of the biggest businesses in the area. The Verlot Ranger Station, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, estimates that 250,000 people currently use the area (USFS pers. comm. 2009). Visitors enjoy hiking, camping, fishing & hunting, sledding, bird watching and a wide variety of other activities. In recognition of the Loop’s popularity with visitors, the slogan of Granite Falls is “Gateway to the Mountain Loop” (City of Granite Falls 2010). Part of the Mountain Loop Highway is designated as a National Scenic Byway. Roads with this designation have certain intrinsic qualities such as natural features, historic elements, and recreational and scenic quality (U.S. Dept. of Transportation 2010). Many people travel to the Mountain Loop Highway from Seattle and other large metropolitan areas.
Several businesses and destinations close to the proposed motocross site, serve the people seeking out the peaceful and beautiful surroundings. The Old Robe Trail, within half a mile from the proposed track, is one of the most popular destinations in the area (Dean 1997, Sykes 1998, Johnston 2002, McDonald 2007, and Richardson 2010). Businesses such as Paca Pride Guest Ranch, allow visitors to stay in a comfortable setting while enjoying the environment. Masonic Park is a campground used by members and rented out to groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). There are plans to open the Healing Hearts in Hope Veterans Retreat for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A motocross park is completely incompatible with historic and current land usage.
The developer has provided estimates of expected attendance at the proposed Granite Falls Motocross Park to the Snohomish County Planning Development Services (PDS) (Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency 2009). The highest attendance at his facility in Monroe was 12,671 in 2003. He extrapolated an 81% increase in attendance at the proposed facility if it included an indoor track. He removed the indoor track and by decreasing the attendance figures, the project could proceed without costly improvements such as additional traffic lanes and a septic system. His final attendance estimate was 16,307 people per year. The percentage of children expected to attend the site is 27.8% - based on his projected counts of adults and kids from his previous experience with the Monroe track. The developer told the PDS that he would have 16,307 people attending annually at his development while he has told the people in Granite Falls that attendance will be 60,000 per year (Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce 2009). Attendance levels that high will cause increased problems with traffic, emergency services, noise, water usage, and drainage. It will also negatively affect local wildlife and habitats.
Noise and Sound Attenuation
The developer was notified by PDS to include an earthen berm before the tracks were operational as a way to attenuate the sounds produced on the site (Review Completion Comments 2008). Environ also recommended construction of a berm (ENVIRON Noise Assessment 2009). The SEPA states that a “25-foot high sound berm will be constructed 360 degrees around the track to control noise” (Revised SEPA 2010). However, the plans indicate that the berm will be constructed in sections and that the construction will not begin until Phase 3. Residents and visitors will have to hear the sounds of the track without any berm for several years. Full construction of the berm is expected to take up to 15 years. It is dependent upon available fill material from other projects in the county so it may take much longer than the projected timeline. At that time, harvesting of the surrounding forest will begin. Any additional sound buffering provided by those trees will be lost.
The proposed track will be built on a rural two-lane highway that dead ends for part of the year due to road conditions. Snow generally makes the road impassable between late fall through early spring. Though the developer decreased his expected attendance figures, visitors entering and exiting the site will be doing so on a road where people routinely drive over the speed limit. The developer determined that traffic travels at 10.6 mph over the speed limit eastbound and 14 mph over the speed limit westbound (Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency 2008). The entrance westbound is on a blind curve while the eastbound entrance is at the top of a steep hill. Should a serious accident occur, access for residents and visitors could be difficult if not impossible.
Fire, Medical and Law Enforcement Services
Large-scale developments are usually required to have a water source to suppress fires on site. The developer plans to only use fire extinguishers at this site and they will be inadequate in the event of a forest fire. The heavily forested area could quickly turn into a major conflagration.
In the developer’s documents, he states that a medic and EMT’s will only be available on race days (Granite Falls Motocross Park Revised Project Description and Operations Plan 2010). He proposes being open up to seven days a week and accidents may happen during practice runs. Traumatic injuries associated with motocross will require immediate attention by medical personnel with specialized training. In a nationwide study that looked at off-road motorcycle injuries in young people, children in the 12-15 year old age range received the most serious injuries (CDC 2006). The developer of the motocross park is selling this as a place where most of the riders will be under the age of 18. There will not be adequate medical care for the types of trauma typical of motocross facilities. The nearest hospital is a 45-minute drive away.
Due to problems with target practice, illegal dumping, underage drinking, trespassing, and illegal ORV usage, some of the nearby U.S. Forest Service roads are closed to the public. The number of local law enforcement officers is extremely limited and due to the distance, it takes quite a while for help to arrive. People looking for places to camp often drive up private driveways in the area. Though the developer proposes fencing the 75-acre track area, visitors cannot be forced to stay on site.
Local taxpayers will be forced to pay higher taxes to cover costs associated with increased demands in fire, medical, and law enforcement services due to this business.
Wildlife and the Environment
As the developer noted, there is a Marbled Murrelet area 0.6 miles from the proposed site (Talasaea 2007). Only 29 nests have been located in the state (Hamer 2010). Due to the extremely sensitive nature of threatened and endangered species, exact locations of nests are not disclosed to the public. The developer has been required to do further studies to determine if there is additional Marbled Murrelet usage in the area and has not submitted those studies to date. Canyon Creek contains populations of federally threatened species including Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, bull trout, cutthroat trout, and steelhead (Revised SEPA 2010). Residents and visitors to the area have observed other wildlife on or near the proposed site including bald eagles, spotted owls, pileated woodpeckers, Vaux’s swift, deer, bobcat, bear, cougar and a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. There needs to be a more comprehensive analysis of the environment at the site. The consultant responsible for the wildlife survey was only in the field for one day (Talasaea 2007).
Logging occurred on the site in the recent past and contains stands of 5-28 year old mixed species coniferous forests (Talasaea 2009). The range in the age of stands provides the requirements for a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. The developer plans to harvest the forest surrounding the site when the berm is completed (MXGP Timber Management Plan 2010).
This is an area with higher than average annual precipitation. Though precipitation in Granite Falls is 48” per year, at Verlot Ranger Station, a few miles east of the proposed site, precipitation is 131” per year. In fact, that area receives more rainfall than any area between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker (Haner 2007). This high level of precipitation could affect how quickly contaminants enter the soil and underlying aquifer.
Water Usage and Drainage
The developer has proposed using 5,000 gallons of water per day (Revised SEPA 2010). Water will be used for dust control, irrigation, and personal use for people working at and visiting the site. Over usage of water from a well on the site could result in dry wells for area residents. The developer will truck in additional water but will be dependent on local availability.
Drainage of water, and contaminants such as gas and oil, will be managed by creating detention ponds and rain gardens (Granite Falls Motocross Park Drainage Addendum 2010). Since most of the site will be a permeable dirt surface, drainage will be difficult to direct towards detention areas. The developer has proposed to use the detention pond water, complete with contaminants, to water the tracks for dust control (Granite Falls Motocross Park Proposed Water Use 2010). Such usage will increase the chances of contaminants entering the high sensitivity critical aquifer recharge beneath the site. A paved refueling area is shown in the plans. There is only one refueling area for the whole 75-acre track area and there is a high probability that visitors may refuel at other locations. Leakage of oil could occur anywhere vehicles are used on the site.
The developer originally planned to build seven tracks at the site. He removed one track (the indoor riding arena) from the current plan but the site for the proposed track remains on the site plan maps (Revised Site Plan 2010). The six remaining tracks include two main tracks, a beginner track, a kid’s track, a flat track, and a freestyle area. When he was asked if he ever foresaw a national event at the site during a meeting in Granite Falls, he said he did not have the permit and that he would have to re-apply to get one. He said, “Not to say in 10 years that we won’t” (Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce Meeting 2009).If there is a possibility of national events in the future at this site, the project needs to be planned and constructed accordingly.
CDC, “Nonfatal injuries from off-road motorcycle riding among children and teens – United States, 2001-2004.” MMWR 55(2006): 621-624
City of Granite Falls website. Home page. Web: 27 May 2010
Dean, Steve. “The Old Robe Trail (It isn’t about a trip to Value Village).” The Herald. 13 November 1997.
ENVIRON International Corporation Noise Assessment – MXGP Granite Falls, January 2009
Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce Meeting, April 14, 2009. Notes by Siobhan Sullivan
Granite Falls Motocross Park Drainage Addendum, by Brant E. Wood, 1 April 2010
Granite Falls Motocross Park Proposed Water Use Technical Memorandum prepared by Brant E. Wood. 19 January 2010
Granite Falls Motocross Park Revised Project Description and Operations Plan, 16 March 2010
Hamer, Thomas, Senior Biologist, Hamer Environmental. May 27, 2010. Personal communication via email
Haner, Andy, Forecaster/Asst. Webmaster, NWS Seattle, NOAA. October 11, 2007. Personal communication via email
Johnston, Greg. "A ring of beauty: The Mountain Loop Highway leads to treasure." Seattle P-I. 9 August 2002.
Oldham, Kit. “Fire destroys the Big Four Inn (Snohomish County) on September 7, 1949.” HistoryLink.org Essay 8543 24 March 2008: Web 27 May 2010
McDonald, Cathy. “Old Robe Trail.” Seattle Times. 6 December 2007.
MXGP Timber Management Plan received April 12, 2010
Review Completion Comments by Planner Scott Whitcutt, PDS, July 14, 2008
Revised SEPA Received March 1, 2010 (with revised dates on some items April 21, 2010)
Revised Site Plan set sheets #1-18, 19 February 2010
Richardson, Vince. "Old Robe Trail." GoSkagit.com 4 February 2010: Web. 23 May 2010.
Sykes, Karen. “Rail history, nature unite on Old Robe Historic Trail.” Seattle P-I. May 7 1998.
Talasaea Consultants, Inc. Critical Areas Review by William E. Shields, Principal. 5 June 2007
Talasaea Consultants, Inc. Native Vegetation Study, by William E. Shields, Principal. 25 January 2009
Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency Memorandum, by Kamal Mahmoud, PDS Traffic Engineer III. 22 January 2008
Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency Memorandum, by Mark Brown, PDS Traffic Engineer III. 19 November 2009
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration – National Scenic Byways Program. 2010. Web: 27 May 2010
U.S. Forest Service, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Verlot Ranger Station. June 4, 2009. Personal communication