Botts Marsh love fest: community courts wetland acquisition

When ‘Botts Marsh’ and ‘love fest’ are used in the same sentence, one might think ‘mini Woodstock’ – not wetland acquisition.

By Ann Powers

But it was the latter, not the former, Lower Nehalem Community Trust’s (LNCT) Nancy Chase referred to when describing the atmosphere at a Dec. 6 public meeting regarding the nonprofit’s proposed Botts Marsh wetland purchase.

“At the end of the meeting, someone referred to the meeting as a ‘love fest,’” Chase said. “There were three pages of positive comments. It was very inspiring to hear everyone’s stories about why they cherished the marsh and the number of years, 30-plus, that some have spent fighting development proposals.”

About 20 residents attended the gathering scheduled at Wheeler City Hall by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). State officials sought public input on a grant request LNCT submitted to OWEB to help fund the 33-acre acquisition.

The Lower Nehalem Community Trust is hoping to purchase and protect the 33-acre Botts Marsh wetlands as a natural area in perpetuity. File photo

A few weeks prior to the meeting, Wheeler Citizens for Responsible Development (CRD) launched an email campaign calling for support of the purchase in order to protect it as a natural area in perpetuity.

“In our analysis, an acquisition of this land by LNCT would be the best and highest use for this land,” Wheeler CRD’s Ralph Thomas said.

Wheeler City Manager Geoff Wullschlager reported receiving nearly 60 emails backing the purchase.

“Which is a tremendous response from our little community,” added Thomas.

And that “little community” is attracting widespread support from neighboring areas, according to Wheeler Mayor Stevie Stephens Burden.

Wheeler Mayor Stevie Stephens Burden

“What was nice about this particular meeting is that it wasn’t just Wheeler,” she said. “There were people from all over the Nehalem Valley and everyone spoke that it would be a (larger) community asset – not just a Wheeler asset.”

Burden said protecting the wetland would benefit the region’s ecological, recreational, economical and “environmentally-friendly tourism” opportunities.

“The most important thing is that it realizes part of the vision the community has had for itself for a really long time,” she added.

The wetland currently lies within an urban growth boundary, which means it can be annexed into city limits, if needed, to accommodate future growth needs. The parcel is dominantly estuarine salt marsh, tidal channel with about 1,500 lineal feet of frontage on Nehalem Bay.

The property is currently zoned Estuary Development for water-dependent development and Water Related Commercial.

“In the past there’s been conversations about developing it into a marina,” said Miriam Hulst, OWEB acquisitions coordinator. “There is that chance just by way of its zoning.”

OWEB officials said they expect to make the grant determination at the end of April.