Local Land Specialist petitions GMHB to challenge the Counties approval to Reconvey Ag-Forest Trust Lands in the Watershed

Local land specialist and Whatcom County resident, Jack Petree, has been very vocal about his opposition of the Lake Whatcom Watershed – Reconveyance that was approved by the Whatcom County Council, on March 12th, 2013.  Many people stood up to be heard on this issue.  All of the following comments came from a wide segment of society who were not organized, did not publish form letters, who spoke-out on their own time and own dime.  They showed up to speak out and bring to the Council their concerns from many different perspectives, such as;

The County doesn’t take care of and maintain the park land it currently owns.

It will decimate what’s left of agricultural forested land in Whatcom County (or Washington State for that matter) and the GMA mandates that all agricultural resources are to be preserved, because logging will not be permitted if this property is converted to park land.

If you turn this over to a forest preserve, or forest-park preserve, what about the hunting and fishing?  Will these activities still be allowed if the County takes possession?

What happens if the County transfers this land to a conservation easement in perpetuity?

This land is currently held in trust, under the management of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), now.  The DNR manages the land at the highest ecological standards now, plus they oversee managed harvest of the trees to produce a lot of revenue for schools, ports and other public entities.  Now the County will be responsible for all the operational, repair maintenance and liabilities incurred on this land, instead of the State.

There are emails that revealed the Counties intent to turn over the management of this land to Whatcom Land Trust with a conservation easement.  That means that Whatcom Land Trust will be able to say who and what can be done on the land, plus sell leases to whomever they choose, make a lot of money for themselves and leave the tax payers of Whatcom County on the hook for all the expenses.

With the loss of this Ag-forest land we’ll shrink, if not destroy, what’s left of our logging industry and damage all the ancillary businesses that service the logging industry.  How much is that going to cost the County?

How much is this going to cost the County tax payers?

How will the County pay for it?

How can the County possibly afford to double the size of our park land, or think that $150K per year, will pay for it? (Please see inserted photo album for Whatcom County Parks proposed budget)

The Department of Ecology has stated publicly that the Reconveyance of this land will not improve water quality in Lake Whatcom.

Where will people park?

How will we provide public restroom facilities and service them if there’s no road access?

How can the County take this property over for park land, comply with the American’s with Disability Act, with the budget proposed by Whatcom County Parks?

Were there a lot of people on the other side who spoke out for the Reconveyance?  Yes.  There were a lot of people who showed up at the second public hearing (they were shocked when so many of us showed up in September of 2012 to protest the Reconveyance) and they were well organized and had submitted a lot of form letters in support of the Reconveyance.  You know those form letters we all get in our email, asking us to contact this person, or that organization in support of their cause.  Form letters are very easy to submit, because you don’t have to take the time to actually write out your own words and do your own research.  Conservation Northwest sent out form letters to submit to Council and suggest talking points to deliver at County Council meetings.  Here’s the most frequent theme from supporters of the Reconveyance;

Bicycle clubs and enthusiasts have been promised that this reconveyed land will be available for biking competitions.

Bicycle clubs and enthusiasts have promised that they’ll provide the volunteers needed to build and maintain the trails and roads needed for their competitions, at no cost to the County.

Conservation supporters have been told that we must do this to protect and repair water quality in Lake Whatcom.

Conservation supporters have been told that logging and development is the cause of phosphorus loading, resulting in depleted oxygen and degrading the water quality of Lake Whatcom. (Please take a moment to read this posting on TMDL’s and information about phosphorus in Lake Whatcom)

Conservation supporters have been told and convinced that any of the land slides that occurred in this area were caused by clear-cut logging and that clear-cut logging still occurs.

Whatcom Land Trust is a great organization who don’t deserve to be demonized, because they’re doing giving great public service to the County.

Everyone deserved to be heard at these public hearings and had ample opportunity to do so.  It is regretful that our County Council did not vote in support of the DNR’s offer to work with the County to create a park plan that would accommodate everyone’s concerns and interests.  In their haste to get this issue off their to-do list, the County tax payers lost an opportunity to achieve a win-win.  We could have won big-time by developing a land management plan and co-ordinate that with a park plan that allowed for logging, hiking, biking, camping, hunting, fishing, off road vehicles and all maintained under the high standards of our state DNR.  (Audio file of March 12, 2013, Whatcom County Council public hearing, Council discussion and vote to approve to submit for Reconveyance of the Lake Whatcom Trust Lands; “not for the faint of heart”)

With Jack Petree’s permission, I am sharing his letter to the Whatcom County Council explaining why he is petitioning the Growth Management Hearings Board to overturn the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance.

~ Kris Halterman

MEMO: 4/9/13

To: The Whatcom County Council and the Whatcom County Executive
From: Jack Petree

Regarding: Hearings Board challenge regarding Whatcom County Resolution 2013 – 009 (Reconveyance)

Council Members and Executive;

Earlier today I submitted a Petition For Review to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) regarding the Reconveyance resolution you passed March 12th of this year.  I think it is right and proper to inform you of my action and, to offer a few words about why I submitted the petition.  My primary objections to your action are threefold.

First, the three major economic initiatives I’ve seen Whatcom County and its cities take in recent years have resulted in the Whatcom County economy being one of the poorest performing metropolitan economies in the State of Washington with exceedingly low median incomes the rule.
So what have we done about our wage issue? We deliberately ran Georgia Pacific out of town, we deliberately assured the stagnation of our rural economy by the adoption of LAMIRDS in lieu of the already Superior and Appeals Court approved rural zoning we had in place previously and, now, we
are violating state law regarding what both the Hearings Boards and the State Supreme Court have called a “…forest resource conservation imperative that imposes an affirmative duty on local governments to designate and conserve forest resource lands in order to assure the maintenance and enhancement of the forest resource industry.” (bolding is the Hearings Board’s). In doing so, we are crippling our forest products industry, an industry paying well above the average wage for the county.
Next, I believe the Department of Natural Resources cannot offer Reconveyance opportunities to Counties on land zoned to reflect the law’s requirement that lands of long term commercial significance be preserved and enhanced. It is my belief that Reconveyance can only be allowed after resource land has been de-designated and rezoned to accommodate park uses. This challenge, if accepted by the Board, will help clarify that issue.
Last, the Whatcom County Council put the cart before the horse in the Reconveyance process. Land cannot at once be lands dedicated to the commercial production of timber and the preservation of a healthy forest industry and, park lands. As the Hearings Boards have said, there are three kinds of
land under GMA; resource land, rural land and urban growth areas. In saying that, the Boards have pointed out that rural land and lands dedicated to urban growth can be routinely zoned and rezoned to accommodate the needs of society but, resource lands require a much higher standard and greater
scrutiny by the Boards when it comes to de-designation and re-designation. The Council chose to ignore the need to de-designate and then re-designate the lands it wanted reconveyed before proceeding with its action and in doing that, I believe, violated the GMA.
I am not happy doing this. This will take a huge number of hours out of my life, hours better spent trying to make a living in this tough economy but, I don’t see an option here. If I don’t do this the livelihood of our county’s forest industry workers are threatened. I’ve lived in Whatcom County too long to see our industries continue to be harassed and unsupported decade, after decade, after decade, without trying to do something.  We have brought our economy to the point where it is.   With the exception of the big three at Cherry Point, we have allowed ourselves to become excessively dependent on grants, transfer payments from the state, and the sale of milk, cheese and gasoline to Canadians.

Jack Petree

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  1. At least there is one person in the county who will take a financial and personal risk to support and protect our timber resource lands. It was truly sad that our county council has lost its way. We have a county council who has chosen to use LAIMRDS to stagnate our rural economy and the ignore the part of the GMA tha says they must protect rural economy. We have land available to work on but a county council that is too afraid to let people work. We have land available to play on but a county council that had not even fully developed the park lands they had.
    Now we have 8,000 acres of responcibility less jobs and no recreation enhancement on the horizon.
    Looks like a lose – lose situation as it stands.

  2. Madeleine Baines

    When you delve into the details of this reconveyance, the question reamins why was it even suggested in the first? When there are so many good reasons against the taking of this good forest land, one has to wonder if there isn’t a money trail behind it all. Who stands to benefit? certainly not the taxpaying public of Whatcom County. Thank you Mr. Petree for your understanding of what has transpired and your willingness to fight for what you know to be right.

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