Ruth Kees Recalls Local Land Battles

This article first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on July 31, 2009.

By Jean Cerar

Although she died May 6, 2009, the stories of Ruth Kees, Issaquah’s longtime environmental activist, live on through the Issaquah History Museums’ Oral History Video Project.

Ms. Kees was interviewed in November 2006. At that time she talked about the fight to save the Issaquah Skyport and the effort to stop the Southeast Bypass.

Issaquah Skyport

When Interstate 90 came through the Issaquah Valley, Ruth Kees started the group, Friends of Issaquah Creek, to save the salmon trapped in weirs built by the highway department on the north end of Tiger Mountain.

“But I could see this was going to be a one-person type of thing so I didn’t carry it very far,” she said. “But then other things started developing, and we got more people [involved]. At that time, the Washington Environmental Council had been formed. So I went to form the Issaquah Environmental Council.”

“Then things got so hot around here. It was a case of paying attention to all the local issues.”

One of the issues was the Issaquah Skyport, which was located on the north side of I-90 where the Pickering Place shopping center now stands.

The Skyport was a popular destination for area residents who liked to watch the field’s parachuting and gliding activities.

In 1987 operator Linn Emrich’s lease expired. A bond issue to keep the Skyport was defeated.

Ruth Kees and her husband Dan were among those leading the fight to stop development on the site “because that whole area is a wetlands,” she said. “It may not be a Class 1 wetlands, but it’s a wetland.”

The Kees’ concern was that development would interfere with the natural replenishment of the aquifer. During her interview, Ruth explained what happens when surface water cannot sink into the ground.

“Well, water always goes downhill,” she said. “This part of the valley is elevated above Lake Sammamish, which is a big pool. It shows where the aquifer level is. Because of the development around here the water is no longer absorbed into the ground. Lately, after a rainfall, Lake Sammamish will go up six feet, and all the docks are underwater. And then it goes back down. It’s definitely connected to getting rid of your surface water. You can’t replenish the aquifer [if the ground is covered with impervious surfaces].”

Kees also pointed out that recent flooding in the Issaquah Valley occurred because the ground could not absorb the water fast enough.

The Kees sued to save the Skyport land. The developers waged a countersuit, a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suit. It turned out to be too much for the Kees, who settled.

“It cost us money, that’s what did us in,” she said. “We were $86,000 in debt and we didn’t see any way out. And they kept processing it. They didn’t let anything die. So finally we saved the 12 acres and Pickering Barn. At least that was given to us.”

Southeast Bypass

For 20 years Kees was involved in the effort to block construction of the Southeast Bypass, which would have connected I-90’s Sunset Interchange with the Issaquah Hobart Road via a route along the base of Tiger Mountain.

The Kees’ interview was conducted before the Issaquah City Council voted to kill the bypass project.

“The reason for having the bypass is to take the traffic off Front Street,” she said. “Now, that’s kind of silly, because we don’t get all that much. We get traffic, but then it goes through. And it is not truck traffic. Trucks are forbidden.

“And you put that bypass in and you’re going to have a whole bunch more cars – and trucks – going down this valley, with more smog in this valley. And with our terrain, we’re going to be a little Los Angeles.

“And the noise pollution! People don’t talk about noise pollution, but it affects the nerves of a person. They’ve subjected animals and people to continuous noise, and their blood pressure went up. And their blood pressure never came down! So it causes physiological changes.

“It would also result in this part of the valley being developed, too.

“I think this is one case where citizen [input made a difference]. There were a whole slew of people that all spoke out against it.”