Proposed Shoreline Management Plan Threatens Fresh Water Source of Hundreds of Island County Residents

Update (09 November, 2012)  On Thursday evening, November 08, 2012, voter-ousted Island County Commissioner Angie Homola made it clear as to why the voters made a correct choice in removing her from office. Donning her Commissioner’s hat while attending a public presentation of the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Groups (SFEG) Swan Lake Assessment and Design study, Angie misleadingly told the entire room of public attendees that potential salt-water intrusion was simply NOT AN ISSUE in the area of Swan Lake claiming that she had been TOLD by the Island County hyrdro-geologist (who, of course, was not at the meeting) that this was the case.

As an earlier posted comment to this article has clearly shown:

“The county’s own water management plan, Critical Aquifer Recharge Area says this Swantown area aquifer area is highly susceptible (Fig. 7). The USGS and in the Preliminary Map of Revised Seawater Intrusion Policy, this maps (Fig. 11) show this area as High and Very High for salt intrusion. Swan lake is only high, surrounded by very high, the reduction in risk is probably due to the constant fresh water drainage refilling the lake.”

The Whidbey News’ Times suggestion to voters to REMOVE Angie Homola from office was spot-on when they said “she is unflinching in her opinions about taxes, planning and law enforcement and other issues that are contrary to her constituents’ beliefs.”


Below is a letter which has been sent to all three Island County Commissioners:

“PLEASE do everything you can to STOP Island County Government and to STOP Angie Homola’s Swan Lake Preservation Group from doing anything that potentially and/or purposely increases the salinity of Boss/Swan Lake through so-called Shoreline “Restoration”: Specifically, I refer to plans for map locations 56, 57, and 58.

The so-called “restoration” plan for the big giant puddle of rain water that people have begun to call Swan Lake is a serious threat to the underground fresh water sources out here in the West Beach area: it would turn a body of fresh water now feeding underground aquifers into a body of salt water! Angie Homola has a serious conflict of interest in this issue because of her long history with the Swan Lake Preservation Group despite her being the Commissioner for my district.


Swan Lake in 1900, It was NEVER a salt water estuary!

Moreover, a conflict and or duplicity of interest in this issue extends beyond Commissioner Angie Homola’s simply being a (founding?) member of the Swan Lake Preservation Group. It also extends to Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson in that both Helen Price-Johnson and Angie Homola have fought City of Oak Harbor Urban Growth Area plans westward, towards to the area of Boss / Swan Lake. They, along with the Whidbey Environmental Action Network did so based on the premise that such plans would somehow threaten that fresh body of water and the area surrounding it. Somehow, however, these two same island County Commissioners now perceive zero problem with approving a so-called shoreline “restoration” plan that would obliterate a fresh water lake entirely, turn it into a free-flow-tidal salt water lagoon, and thus essentially move Puget Sound 1/4 mile inland?

Ironically, even the Director / President of the recently created Whidbey West Water Association, Jerry Pitsch, is also on record speaking at local Government  events about the alleged “importance” of the Boss / Swan Lake area to salmon “restoration”, a position that certainly appears to place even our own citizen-owned water association at cross-purposes with the goal of preserving the sources of fresh water that we depend upon for daily use!

So, we have a situation where people in positions of leadership and control out here (since Angie Homola lives out this way, too and also uses this water system) who apparently seem more than willing  to spend public $$ to threaten our fresh water sources because they want to “restore” Boss / Swan lake to some PRESUMED “aboriginal or pre-European settlement  conditions”, and that giant puddle of storm water is now even being referred to as a “coastal lagoon” in some Island County documents: These folks PRESUME a great deal!

(31) “Restore,” “restoration” or “ecological restoration” means the reestablishment or upgrading of impaired ecological shoreline processes or functions. This may be accomplished through measures including, but not limited to, revegetation, removal of intrusive shoreline structures and removal or treatment of toxic materials. Restoration does not imply a requirement for returning the shoreline area to aboriginal or pre-European settlement conditions.” WAC 173-26-020(31)

While others will rightfully so question the cost of this project compared to actual NEEDS in Island County (e.g. restoration of law enforcement personnel to levels from a few years back), I hope you can see that these proposed parts of the Shoreline Management Plan are also 100% at cross-purposes with the present NEED of hundreds of homeowners to be free from salt water intrusion induced by Government action that may do irreversible severe damage to our only presently available source of fresh water.

Analysis of the costs associated with connecting residents of the Whidbey West Water Association to the nearest alternate sources of fresh water suggests about $1 million to do so. Will Island County Government fund these costs AFTER shoreline “restoration” has turned Boss / Swan Lake into a salt water aquarium and AFTER Boss / Swan Lake is converted from a body of fresh water to a body of salt water, or will the WA State Dept. of Ecology promise to fund those water connections for us instead? Oh, and while at it, will the Navy (whose pipe we would likely have to connect to along Golf Course Road) and/or the City of Oak Harbor (from whom the Navy buys the water) agree to sell this water? If so, can you please get all that IN WRITING in some ironclad agreement from all those folks BEFORE Island County floods Boss/Swan Lake with salt water and makes salt-water free-flow back and forth with each tide?

This situation is clearly an example where the Precautionary Principle needs to be in play: “The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.””

Island County SHORELINE MASTER PROGRAM web page.

Also applicable: see Swan Lake Engineering Feasibility Assessment at the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.  


Below is a letter-to-the editor that I sent today to the Whidbey News-Times, the South Whidbey Record, the Whidbey Examiner and the Stanwood-Camano News.

“Angie Homola’s Swan Lake Preservation Group wants to use Island County’s Shoreline “Restoration” plan to turn Boss/Swan Lake into a body of salt water, thus moving Puget Sound inland and seriously risking salt water intrusion into the fresh water wells of residents living in the vicinity of West Beach, including the area just south of where the Navy has just started drawing fresh water from wells to water the Navy Golf Course. 

On one hand, Commissioner Homola, Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network have vociferously fought Urban Growth Area expansion westward from Oak Harbor on the premise that the area around Boss / Swan Lake is environmentally sensitive. Contrarily, this same trio has now apparently taken the stance that, while additional storm water running into Boss/Swan Lake would be problematic, flooding that area with twice-daily tidal salt water at taxpayer expense would be peachy keen.

Never mind that doing so would create a potentially serious risk of salt water intrusion into surrounding well water. That would simply mean that members of the newly formed Whidbey West Water Association would either have to purchase reverse-osmosis systems to desalinate sea water or spend about $1 million to connect themselves to the new Navy piping recently installed along Golf Course Road. Even the Whidbey West Water Association President, Jerry Pitsch, is on record at public forums espousing the “importance” of Boss / Swan Lake for salmon “restoration”.  I am hoping some real change comes this November election season.”


At an Island County Commissioners’ hearing on this issue on Monday evening, October 15th, 2012, Island County Commissioner Angie Homola claimed she had zero conflict of interest on this issue as an elected Island County Commissioner. One must wonder exactly WHAT it would EVER take for Angie Homola EVER to perceive herself as having ANY conflict of interest on ANY public matter. For example, at a web page titled Swan Lake Engineering Feasibility and Design (06-AMN-06-011) is a document titled Feb 2008 WRAC update – Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group from February 2008 delineating Angie Homola as one of two primary contacts for the “Swan Lake Restoration and Preservation” Project and listing her as an official representative of the Swan Lake Preservation Group, well before she was elected as an Island County Commissioner.


  1. With Angie being on record opposing the US Navy plan to increase well water useage for the golf course if and when saltwater intrusion does become an issue in the area it will undoubtedly, in Angie’s and WEAN’s mind, be a problem caused by the US Navy not from turning Swan (Bos) Lake into a tidal marsh.

    If this new marsh does cause saltwater intrusion into local wells it will more than likely take several millions of dollars of study to determine the actual cause.

    One side will be screaming it is Swan Lake, the other side will be screaming at the US Navy and the only way to settle it will of course be more million dollar studies…

    Our county neeeds to be protected from people that think like this. Historically Swan (Bos) Lake has always been a lake, there is no evidence and no proof it was ever an intertidal area. For our county commissioners to plan to “restore” something that wasn’t is just the height of lunacy.

    1. You’re comments are 100% spot-on, Cliff. Unfortunately, what passes as the “Main Stream Media” on Whidbey Island has only seen fit to cover this issue of Shoreline “Restoration” in terms of access to public beaches and the use of boat ramps. To wit: “New Island County plan may affect beach access

      And, yes, as we were recently reminded by the a local letter to the editor titled Update wanted on water permit:

      “On Sept. 10, 2012, the Island County Board of Commissioners wrote a letter to Capt. Johnston of NASWI requesting that the Navy scale back their water right Permit, GI-28658 (in which the DOE granted the pumping of 39 million gallons annually) to the actual historical use of irrigation water for the Gallery Golf Course of about 10 million gallons annually.”

      Of course, specifically, it was Helen Price-Johnson and Angie Homola who sent that letter.

      John Brooks responded to that LTE along the same lines as this Island Politics article:

      The golf course irrigation is not the biggest threat to the west Whidbey aquifer and POWW wells. NAS Whidbey has had wells since the base was founded. Before the early 70’s all the water on the base came from these wells. Probably millions of gallons a year was used. The water line from Annacortes did not come on the island until the early 70’s, before that it was NAVY relied on wells and water tower. Local wells were just fine back then.

      The NAVY is not the biggest threat to the Aquifer around the golf course its, its your Island County Commissioners. Look at the new Shoreline Restoration Plan just released. The county plans to remove tide gate and associated armoring and flood Swan Lake with tidal flow sea water. Now this is the surface collection point for the fresh water drainage south of Oak Harbor. The swan lake drainage is all the area south of Oak Harbor down almost to the local airport, it flows across the island to Swan lake on west beach. This is the main recharge for the aquifer on west Whidbey. This drainage is the only source of fresh water on west Whidbey.

      The Island county commissioners and several local non profits were studying a plan to make a rest stop for juvenile salmon out of Swan Lake. Its will only cost a couple million tax dollars. The big cost is the POWW and West Whidbey Water Association members who are going to loose their wells to salt water intrusion. Its not a feel good environmental study anymore, its in the SHORELINE PLAN. BOSS/SWAN LAKE is now referred to in several places as SWAN LAGOON. POWW needs to remember the golf course irrigation water, less evaporation and plant uptake, falls back through the ground into the Aquifer. Its should have no long term effect on your well. But being in ANGIE”S List will.


      Copied from page 17 of the ISLAND COUNTY SHORELINE MASTER PROGRAM Shoreline Restoration:

      56 WW02: Remove concrete debris (degrading shoreline armoring) to the south of the row of shoreline residences fronting the shoreline adjacent to Swan Lake. Restore sediment supply and transport Restore High Long Term (this will accelerate the erosion along the beach south to north and probably undercut west beach road.)

      57 WW02: Remove tide gate and associated armoring that restricts tidal exchange between Swan. Lake and the marine shoreline Restore tidal flow, exchange of aquatic organisms, detritus input/export. Restore High Short Term (This will induce sea water, into the aquifer and the wells will go bad ).

      58 WW02: Remove derelict structures (piles and remnants of pier/boat ramp) along marine shoreline just north of Swan Lake. Restore mudflat, sand flat, or other intertidal habitat; remove contaminants Restore High.

  2. Smith Island is located just west of Whidbey Island. Around this island is plenty of kelp beds which makes it the perfect spot for “juvenile salmon” making their way to open ocean. Yet we have a bunch of “do gooders” that want to play god and mess with mother nature and create something that never was. Such is the folly of environmental whackos like the WEANies, and the Swan Lake Group of Fools. One would think that a group calling themselves Swan Lake Preservation would actually be FOR PRESERVING Swan Lake by NOT turning it into a SALT WATER tidal inlet.

    1. Exactly correct, Ken. In fact, at last Monday’s hearing at the Board of County Commissioner’s hearing room, Commissioner Emerson noted that the WRAC folks had mentioned that juvenile salmon restoration efforts on the WEST side of Whidbey Island had almost zero potential expected net return.

      This report, “West Whidbey Nearshore Fish Use Assessment” from 2006 supports that statement. Some interesting excerpts:

      “…The t-sheet maps show no connection between the Swantown Marsh and marine waters…

      …Project investigators observed the tide gate draining the marsh on numerous occasions. Over the course of this project the marsh had very low measured salinity, and was not tidally inundated during high tides…

      …This site is intermittently exposed to large swells from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and had the highest potential wave energy of any site in the survey…

      …A single freshwater species, yellow perch (Perca flavescens), was found to inhabit Swantown Lake along with numerous juvenile and adult three-spine stickleback.”

      Also, back in April 2000, a WASHINGTON STATE CONSERVATION COMMISSION report characterized this lake thus:

      A topographic map from 1871 shows a wetland and open water area that appears to be separated by a natural beach berm from Puget Sound (Department of Commerce 1871) (Appendix A-17). Today a tidal gate connects the marsh with the Sound, and the current wetland size is estimated to be approximately 40 ha. The wetland occupies approximately 15 parcels. In 1918, the wetland area was mapped as covering 16 ha.

      Since then, the area has been pumped and farmed. The area has been inundated by water and not pumped since the late 1970s. The lake level fluctuates seasonally. A storage ditch runs parallel to the shoreline and drains the remainder of the lowlying area. A row of houses stands between the shoreline and the ditch. A pump has been used to alleviate backflooding problems during high tide and periods of high precipitation. Island County owns most of the land that includes the marsh habitat (Kearsley 2000).

      Swantown Marsh is only partially functioning as saltmarsh habitat. About 40 % of the wetland currently exists as saltmarsh habitat, the remainder being freshwater marsh (40 %), mudflat (20 %), and open water (10 %) (Sheldon and Associates 1999c). The saltmarsh is dominated by saltmarsh bulrush (Scirpus maritimus).

      The mudflat surrounding the open water is dominated by saltmarsh bulrush, Virginia glasswort, seashore saltgrass, and Halberd-leaf saltbush. Virginia glasswort, seashore saltgrass, Halberd-leaf saltbush, and silverweed dominate the westernmost ditch and berm. The north extension of the wetland is dominated by silverweed, Olney’s bulrush, cattail, (Epilobium watsonii), and soft rush. Invasive exotic species do not appear to be a problem at this site.

  3. who paid for this study?
    Sponsor Match Details
    Proposed Answer
    Describe how the value of the volunteers was determined
    Description of other In-Kind contributions
    Funds were used to subcontract with a consulting firm specializing in coastal geomorphology to begin collection of data that will be needed to complete the feasibility assessment.
    Number of hours volunteers contributed to the project
    Project identifier for the other monetary funding NA

    Source of In-Kind contributions NA
    Source of other monetary funding Island County Department of Public Works – $25,000

    1. The initial published plans are to make Swan Lake a Salt water Estuary like the backers of those efforts claim it was 100 years ago.

      Following are the minutes of the first public meeting held on this $5,000,000+ fiasco.

      These minutes include 3 YouTube links so you can watch videos on the “players” in action:

      Sue Madsen, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group’s Project leader, introduced the project and her team’s partners. The project was awarded funding from the Washington State Salmon Recover Funding Board in Jan 2012, and is being conducted in cooperation with the Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group and Island County Public Works.

      Bill Oake’s (Island County Public Works) described the County’s role; owns the land lake is on, responsible for operation of the tidegates, need to repair/upgrade tidegates in an environmentally-friendly manner regardless of whether or not restoration projects goes forward opportunities.

      GayLynn Beighton spoke on behalf of the Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group, (created by Homola) a local non-profit organization consisting of community members working to preserve the watershed and estuarine wetland (salt marsh) of Swan Lake.

      Ms. Madsen provided a overview of the Swan Lake Project. A copy of her PowerPoint presentation is attached, and video of the meeting is available at:

      Homola’s Swanlake Plan 1 of 3

      Homola’s Swanlake Plan 2 of 3

      Homola’s Swanlake Plan 2 of 3

      Questions from the audience:

      Q: How will project control for/be affected by proposals for development in the Swan Lake Watershed?

      A: This project will consider County models of\runoff under future build-out scenarios, but will NOT deal with or seek to influence development decisions. Land-use regulations/building permts etc are province of state and county regulations (Critical Areas, Shorelines, Growth Management etc) and are not the focus of this study.

      Q: Historic question – was there always a road across the berm?

      A: Historic accounts suggest there was vehicle access across the berm to maintain irrigation ditches since at least the 1890s. The current road was constructed sometime between 1939 and 1942.

      Q: Does Island County have a date to replace the gates?

      A: There is no fixed date.

      Q: Another marsh north of Swan Lake, is it feasible to develop?

      A: SFEG has not looked at that site yet, but will follow up on that

      Q: Audubon Society – Is study considering State Park jurisdiction. Note that Swan Lake is designated a Habitat of Local Importance by Island County.

      A: SFEG has notified Joseph Whidbey State park managers about the project, and is aware that the site is designated an HLI.

      Q: Was SFEG involved with development with Dugualla Bay project?

      A: SFEG was not involved with project development at Dugualla Bay. However, we have been assisting the Whidbey Camano Land Trust (WCLT) and Skagit River System Cooperative with fish sampling at Dugualla Heights lagoon, and will be partnering with WCLT on planting parties at the site this fall.

      Q: Has anyone addressed the ecosystems services?

      A. The Swan lake Watershed Preservation Group and SFEG have been awarded a grant from the Island County Conservation Futures Fund that will support wetlands characterization, habitat mapping and an evaluation of wildlife habitats at the lake. This information will be developed in conjunction with the Engineering Feasibility Assessment to ensure that ecosystem processes are considered fully.

      Q: Phil Collier – longtime resident who grew up in the area. Stated that there have never been salmon inside Swan Lake. Provided a paper on fish habitat “Salmon Habitat: It’s all downhill” from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (

      A: Recent sampling at Swan Lake (2006 and 2007) has not documented salmonids in Swan Lake, although thousands of salmonids are present on Swantown beach just west of the lake. Historical analysis did not uncover information that salmon historically spawned in Swantown Creek. However, the proposed project focuses primarily on providing access to Swan Lake for juvenile salmon so that they can use the area to find food and/or escape predators. Small fish are often not reported in historical counts, and therefore it is unknown whether or not they used the lake. We are not speculating on whether or not adult salmon would access the lake and begin spawning in the Swantown Creek.

      Comment: Scott Ashford – Owns property along the eastside of Swan Lake. Thinks the project is a great opportunity…

      ***( note:this is my comment ; not part of meeting minutes…Commissioner Homola, an avid Beachwatcher supporter made sure that $503,208 was included in the 2010 budget thanking her supporters Scott & Susan Ashworth, long time supporters of the WSU Beachwatchers etc contributed $10,000 to her election funds…that’s about 1/4 of her total funds spent to get elected. Don’t you wish you could invest $10,000 and get back $500,000 ROI? )

      Q: Cyril Greig – Owns property near the end of Swantown road. There is a wetland property if front of his lot. Dry channel on property adjacent, two ponds. Is it possible a subterranean connection to Swan Lake, fed by underground flow?

      A: It is possible that there is a groundwater connection. SFEG will follow-up with landowner and collect some WQ samples there.

      Q: Which comes first fish study or tide gate?

      A: Fish habitat improvement is the main focus of the study funded by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. They have conditioned the study such that if it appears that providing fish access is not possible funding will cease. However, given the current status of the tidegate Island County will need to complete repairs/upgrades regardless of whether or not providing fish access is possible. To do so they will also be required to meet current environmental standards and answer the same questions that the fish study is asking, so partnering with SFEG on the study is win-win.

      Q: Murray Beighton – if tide gates were not operable what would the lake look like?

      A: Tidegates historically were designed to keep saltwater out. Since they are not fully functional now, the community would probably look much like it does today – i.e. saltmarsh with saltwater influence. What lake would look like under different scenarios is what the study will work on determining.

      Q: Have you found evidence of fish that live only in saltwater are found in Swan Lake?

      A: Yes. Study conducted by Meridian environmental in 2007 found pacific staghorn sculpin and saltwater shrimp. We hope to do more extensive sampling as part of the CFF grant.

      Q Is there a remnant delta beach now? Is there a delta feature there now? If you find peat there maybe a remnant delta.

      A: The preliminary study conducted by Coastal Geologic Services suggested there may have been a small delta located near the northwest end of the beach.

      Comment: Tom Ford (Whidbey Golf Corse) – Golf Course uses Swantown Creek for stormwater drainage. Study needs to make sure that is considered and not compromised.

      Q: Pat Fakkama – Make sure to consider the 50yr flood plan. Do not slow water flow out of Swan Lake. Do not reduce culvert size.

      A: The study will need to consider flows under future build-out scenarios. Can guarantee that any future water conveyance will have at least as large capacity as current culverts.

      Comment: Local residents are concerned about infrastructure. Project will need to ensure that there are no adverse affect to water quality, septic systems, or flooding.”

      ***end of published minutes***

  4. Bill

    Guess what? The counties own water management plan, Critical Aquifer Recharge Area says this Swantown area aquifer area is highly susceptible (Fig 7). The USGS and in the Preliminary Map of Revised Seawater Intrusion Policy, this maps (Fig 11 )show this area as High and Very High for salt intrusion. Swan lake is only high, surrounded by very high, the reduction in risk is probably due to the constant fresh water drainage refilling the lake.

    If the county would do a proper repair and maintain the Tide Gates, there would probably be no salt in the lake.

    1. Thanks for that add-on. I had previously seen that report but had not yet re-located it when I posted this article. The facts that you highlight are partly why I made the statement (and slapped the podium top when I did so) to the Island County Commissioners at the mid-October hearing that I seriously doubted that either their own Island County hydro-geologist or the WA State Dept. of Ecology would be wiling to risk taking a position that this plan to turn that lake into a saltwater aquarium would be risk-free to freshwater wells in that area, since the plan is, essentially, to move Puget Sound inland about 1/4 of a mile.


    October 23 2012.
    RE: Swan Lake Engineering Feasibility Analysis.
    You are receiving this communication because you have requested updates on the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Groups (SFEG) Swan Lake Assessment and Design study. The goal of the study is to evaluate options for improving tidal connectivity and fish passage (if possible) into Swan Lake. Scientists working on the study are wrapping up their Technical Analysis work and will be presenting preliminary results at a public meeting on November 8, 2012. The meeting will be held in the Heller Road Fire hall located at 2720 North Heller Road, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 360-336-0712.

    Thanks you for your interest; we look forward to seeing you next month.

    Sue Madsen, Restoration Ecologist.
    Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
    360-336-0172, Ext. 302

Comments are closed.