Whatcom County to seek 8,700 acres near Lake Whatcom for parks
The Whatcom County Council voted 5-2 to start the process to create a Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve Park.
Whatcom County Council voted to assume ownership of thousands of acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed, land the state is now managing for timber harvesting and that the county plans to use for parkland.
The move came after an unsuccessful attempt by council member Bill Knutzen to persuade the council to put the land transfer question on the general election ballot.
The County Council on Tuesday, May 22, voted 5-2, with council members Barbara Brenner and Knutzen opposed, to send a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources. The letter asks the state to proceed with transferring 8,700 acres near the lake from state to county control. The land is currently managed by DNR to generate revenue for various trusts.
In late 2007, then county Executive Pete Kremen announced his administration had been talking with DNR about the potential transfer. The idea was first brought to him by former council member Dan McShane. Kremen is now a council member.
In October 2008, the council narrowly approved an agreement with DNR spelling out steps each agency would take to get a transfer ready. The county paid $213,000 to reimburse the state agency for preparations for the transfer.
Recreation and environmental groups, and the city of Bellingham, support the transfer. The wood-products industry, which opposes the removal of land from potential logging, is expected to file a lawsuit challenging a transfer.
"These continued take-aways just to make special-interest groups feel good, they're offensive. They're affecting my ability to make a living," forester and arborist Aubrey Stargell told the council.
Mount Baker School District is one of the districts that receives logging revenue. It previously opposed the transfer because of revenue that would be lost, but now supports it after the nonprofit Whatcom Land Trust and an anonymous donor agreed to compensate it $500,000 upon transfer.
"I'm offended that they were paid off to keep their mouth shut," said Stargell, who has three children attending schools in the district.
The state Department of Ecology has repeatedly said forestry isn't the problem in the watershed, Stargell said.
Others told the council they supported the transfer.
Larry Mansfield, a member of Bellingham Watershed Advisory Board, said the board is strongly in favor of the transfer. He questioned the impacts of logging on the lake, the drinking-water source for residents of Bellingham and surrounding areas. For example, herbicides are used to kill big leaf maple trees because you don't want them in areas you're logging, he said, but where do the chemicals go?
"We really don't have a good handle on what logging does to our watershed," he said. If the city and county worked out a deal, the city could help pay for long-term costs of the land incurred by the county, he said.
Darrell Sofield, spokesman for a new group called Whatcom Land and Recreation Coalition, said the group sees economic benefits to the transfer. Yes, we'd lose timberlands that pay wages, but the recreation industry would be boosted, helping to attract people here because of the high quality of life, said Sofield, a business owner.
They're not proposing to remove logging from all Whatcom County lands, he said.
"I just disagree with someone that says we're not going to have a timber industry in the future," he said.