Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reconveyance: No September Surprises

An interesting juxtaposition of events occurred today.

First, a 'courtesy' announcement on behalf of a McShane for Mayor event, with this message:

"Dan introduces a bold plan to help protect Lake Whatcom
Dan McShane is working with County Executive Pete Kremen to place more than a quarter of the Lake Whatcom watershed into protected park status. The agreement with the Department of Natural Resources to move forward on a land swap to block up 8,400 or so acres of land was signed on Friday by Pete Kremen and Doug Sutherland, Commissioner of Public Lands.

Just over a year from now Whatcom County will have a spectacular new park of mature forest above the shores of Lake Whatcom with likely trail connections towards Lake Samish and Blanchard Mountain to the west and Mt. Baker to the east. This is one of the biggest steps towards protection of the watershed yet and is an example of how McShane approaches problems: visionary thinking, strong leadership, a collaborative approach and follow-through. This project could not have happened without the support of the County Executive, other Council members, hundreds of citizens, the City of Bellingham, our Legislators and the Department of Natural Resources. Dan is especially grateful for Pete Kremen's commitment to this effort. Dan will bring this approach to the mayor's office. To read more about Dan's proposal, go here [URL]."

Sounds pretty bold to announce something before October, doesn't it?

Dan and Pete, or Pete and Dan?
Doesn't matter, they're in this together and have been planning it for a while - in semi-secret.
Then, we are privileged to receive a flurry of e-mails, both pro and con, which tend to neutralize any preference.
Then comes a somewhat strange telephone request from Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, asking me to 'broker' a rush meeting -prior to the 6:30 PM County Council announcement- with individuals whom he has developed a difficulty in communications. I declined, not because I already had other plans, but because patching up other people's intra-personal problems is not something I particularly relish. But, at least Mitch called me and asked. That appears to be an improvement in my own relationship wih Mitch, but maybe it's just because he needed something he thought I could provide.

I did have other plans and things to do, which prevented me from attending the County Council announcement.
But, I did receive some direct feedback from this meeting, including the plain paper handout reproduced below, and a map depicting 'Lake Whatcom Watershed - Ownership 2006'.
BTW, the map handed out, I have heard, is incorrect according to a DNR source.

Be that as it may, the reconveyance scheme may be an OK thing.
But, the devil is always in the details, isn't it?
One observation was that no County Council members except 'BBgun' seemed to object to it.
Maybe Dan got his votes lined up in advance this time?
Or was it Pete?
Let's see, who could benefit from such a 'pleasant' surprise? Pete? Dan? Sam? Bob?
Of course Doug Sutherland is running for re-election next year, too.

I still have some concerns.
Like, Parks seem to stimulate development nearby.
During the City's Greenways campaign, we learned that Parks enhance nearby property values by an average of 11%.
Normally, that's a good thing.
But in a special watershed?
Guess, I'll need more persuasion on that point.

My main concern remains focused on what kind of Park is envisioned, and with what uses?
After that, what confidence do we have in the County's ability to fund and manage a Park any better than DNR manages its forestlands?
Both of these are legitimate concerns that need more discussion.
And facts!

I'll concede a rare political advance, but only if it is earned.
Stay tuned on this one and see haow it plays out.
Proposed Re-conveyance of State Forest Lands
In the Lake Wnatcom Watershed
Draft Framework

1. Purpose of the transactions proposed in the Agreement

2. Summary of the Agreement

3. Background and current situation relevant to the Agreement

4. Scope - description of the specific parcels involved

5. Rationale for inter-grant exchange
a. Current configuration and disadvantages
b. Objectives to create more manageable blocks for the parties' respective purposes

6. Requirements for inter-grant exchange
a. valuation (including appraisal costs, etc.)
b. balancing of values on the respective sides
c. maps
d. decision-making authority

7. Rationale for re-conveyance of State Forest Trust lands for park purposes
a. park purposes, including distinction from general multiple use of trust lands
b. unique aspects of the situation for the Lake Whatcom watershed
c. specific park intentions and elements related to specific parcels to be re-conveyed
d. expectations for management of adjacent state trust lands

8. Requirements for re-conveyance of State Forest Trust lands for park purposes
a. Whatcom County request
b. Action required by DNR, RCO, Board of Natural Resources, etc.
c. Conformance to final inter-grant exchange
d. Legal documentation and maps, including encumbrances, improvements, agreements obligations, retained rights, etc.

9. Management issues for re-conveyed lands
a. management obligations and costs
b. disposition of any revenues received from management
c. liabilities, encumbrances, hazards, etc.
d. timber management
e. obligations/rights retained by the State of Washington
f. criteria for reversion of lands to the State of Washington

10. Management issues for retained federally-granted trust lands and for Skagit County State Forest Trust lands in the watershed
a. physical characteristics of retained land; benefits of working forest, revenue, watershed protection, and multiple use
b. management direction from HCP and Policy for Sustainable Forest
c. effects of retaining or not retaining the Lake Whatcom Watershed Landscape Plan
d. agreements on specific management elements in support of park purposes on re-conveyed land (Eg: trail easements, multiple use, etc., but excluding management restrictions for scenic qualities beyond PSF)

11. Status of Lake Whatcom Watershed Landscape Plan and potential future legislative action

12. Proposed steps to implement the MOA
a. Joint stakeholder outreach and communication plan
b. Legal/transaction steps
c. Due diligence steps
d. Financing plan to carry out transactions
e. Future legislative Strategy
f. Decision-making requirements

13. Effect on current beneficiaries of Whatcom County State Forest Land

14. Proposed Timeline

15. commitment by parties to proceed and complete agreed on actions

(note: the above text was distributed by County Employees, on plain paper, not attributed to any agency, office or person, OCR scanned)