A quiet oasis, surrounded by the rush of urban life, clings to existence in the heart of Renton. The Black River Riparian Forest is home to more than 130 great blue heron nests. As the largest heronry in King County, this is one of our most valuable natural assets. So why does it seem that the city of Renton so bent on threatening this important resource?

A developer has proposed building a 65-unit housing complex within a heron's cawing distance from the Black River heronry. Despite concerns from Herons Forever, Seattle Audubon and other groups apprehensive about the potential impact of the project on the heronry, Renton's planning commission approved the project.

Fortunately, Fred Kaufman, the city's hearing examiner, overturned the decision in September, calling the development a "major action that will have more than a moderate impact on the quality of environment ... Too many questions on environmental issues are still unanswered."

It seems that either the city does not want to know those questions or does not want to hear their answers. On Monday night the Renton City Council is expected to overturn its own hearing examiner's report calling for an environmental impact statement to be prepared prior to any development.

Great blue herons are among the most majestic and beautiful birds to live among us in the Puget Sound region. Life for herons, however, is a constant struggle. The sounds, smells and sights of urban life can be stressful to great blue herons and are surely a factor in the disappearance and shrinkage of some of our region's prominent heronries over the past generation.

This is why it is so important to protect the herons of Renton's Black River Riparian Forest and their critical habitat. King County certainly agrees. Over the past 15 years, King County has spent more than $8 million to purchase much of forest to protect and preserve the land.

We urge the city of Renton to look once again at its own hearing examiner's call for an environmental assessment on the proposed development. As the examiner noted in his report, "it is possible that the development of environmental information will accomplish both the preservation of the heron colony and permit the development." We agree. There could be a solution that protects the herons and allows the developer to continue with the development in an environmentally sensitive manner. But the council has shown little interest in exploring these alternatives.

One possibility is situating the 65 homes on a much smaller footprint of land, providing a greater buffer between the development and the heronry. Certainly there are options that would not include the intensive removal of forest cover, massive earth movement and potential risks to water quality that the current proposal offers. By creating a development in keeping with the land in which it is situated, the residents will benefit from an improved Northwest quality of life, and the herons will benefit, too.

If the city of Renton allows the development to proceed as planned and this development causes a dispersal of the herons, it is likely that they will not return. King County's largest heronry will cease to be.

Great blue herons are important. They are worth protecting. We urge Renton to allow its hearing examiner's report to stand and work with the developer to create a development that preserves quality of life for Renton citizens and protects the fragile habitat for Renton's most majestic residents.