Brynn Grimely writes:
When County Commissioner Josh Brown called Illahee Community Club member and longtime community volunteer Jim Aho Tuesday to tell him the county was about to own the 107 acre Rolling Hills Golf Course, Aho almost couldn’t believe it.
He still can’t.
“To be honest with you, with the financial climate we were thinking this isn’t ever going to happen,” Aho said Wednesday. “Having this come out of the blue was unbelievable. I still have a hard time thinking this is going to happen.”
The Illahee community has had its eye on the golf course for years, primarily because of the stormwater that surges through the course during heavy rains and into the Illahee Creek, causing sediment to pile up in the culvert below Illahee Road. These storm surges also discharge a large amount of muddy-looking water into the bay. The community has also been concerned the course might one day be developed into housing, which would significantly increase the density within Illahee, and change the feel of the small community.
Course owners Don Rasmussen and Kerma Peterson had been interested in selling the course for years, but they also wanted to make sure if the course was sold it didn’t fall into the hands of developers and be transformed from a sprawling golf course into clusters of homes.
They had talked with the county about trying to sell it so the land was public, but the business partners were asking for $5 million (this is four or more years ago). The county didn’t have the money, and negotiations fell off.
Around the same time, according to Aho, the Illahee community, including the Port of Illahee, looked at ways to solve the sedimentation problem at the base of Illahee Creek. Using a Centennial Clean Water grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the port learned the sediment pollution problem that affected the creek and subsequently Puget Sound was the result of the housing developments to the north of the golf course. The proposed solution was to use the golf course property to filter that water into the ground.
With this knowledge, and the realization that the county had no immediate plans to acquire the course, the port set out to explore grant opportunities to try and get enough money to buy Rolling Hills. Port commissioners didn’t have much success.
But that doesn’t mean they gave up. They continued to work to implement some of the suggestions in the plan drafted by Parametrix — the Bremerton firm hired by the port with the ecology money it received. The plan, Surface Water Management Plan for Illahee Creek, is the result of a comprehensive analysis of the Illahee watershed basin. It identifies the problems in the watershed and how to fix them.
While executing the suggested improvements in the plan will take millions of dollars to accomplish, one of the bigger hurdles the community faced was acquiring the golf course.
The port is also considering the purchase of 15 acres of developable land from local developer Jim James. James had planned to build homes in a development he was calling Timbers Edge. The community appealed the project numerous times, and now James has agreed to offer the land to the port. That deal is still pending, and port commissioners have been asking for direction from port taxpayers to see if constituents want the port to buy the land.
But with the golf course deal now penciled out between the county and Rasmussen and Peterson, community volunteers are feeling rejuvenated and are anxious to start the conversation with the county about implementing stormwater controls.
The surface water management plan details ways in which stormwater controls can be added to mitigate the run-off that floods the stream and sends sediment out into Port Orchard Passage. When these large flushes happen, they also damage the habitat, including impacting the salmon in the stream, according creek analysis.
Commissioner Brown acknowledged it won’t be cheap to solve the stormwater problems facing the creek and subsequent community. But the county has already made a significant step in the right direction by acquiring the property and maintaining it as open space.
“This is going to be a great opportunity for us to look at how can we look at implementing low impact development techniques,” he said. “It costs a lot of money to fix big problems, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start chipping away.”
And with the strong spirit of volunteerism in Illahee, Brown is confident a number of smaller solutions — like rain garden installations and other low impact development projects — will be done at little cost to the county.
“I think this is going to open a lot of doors and possibilities,” he said.
Telling Brown “you did what I think we all thought was impossible,” Aho congratulated the board for working out a deal that will benefit the community on multiple levels.
“We were trying to scheme how could we ever do this?” Aho said.
Now they won’t have to.