Whatcom County has asked the state Department of Natural Resources to cooperate and consolidate and exchange certain lands in the Lake Whatcom watershed, and around the county, in order to create a contiguous holding of some 8,000 commercial forest acres to then be reconveyed to the county, ostensibly to become a park.
Whatcom County represented that their plan enjoyed broad support in the community, though this plan is largely promoted by a small number associated with Conservation Northwest. Whatever the level of enthusiasm may be, I believe this is an effort to circumvent the legal processes established with the passage of the Growth Management Act.
In promoting the fragmentation of these forest lands the county administration, in concert with these individuals, has chosen to ignore the frequent observation of the Growth Management Hearings Board that the greatest threat to our designated resource lands is the location of incompatible uses nearby. Their efforts will not only immediately create an incompatible use in these forest resource lands, but will create pressure to allow other incompatible uses nearby.
I believe that the planned park is inconsistent with the Growth Management Act's goal for conservation of resource lands, as well as the county's own comprehensive plan policy to discourage inappropriate conversion of productive forest land to incompatible non-forest uses.
Incompatible uses specifically include removing significant amounts of land from productive forestry, and creating fire or safety hazards to adjacent forest land. Parks are not even a conditional use allowed in commercial forests under the present Whatcom County Code.
If the county should include such a park in its long-awaited parks plan, that plan will be inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. The hearings board has already ruled against locating a park in commercial forest lands in Skagit County, and ruled that a county's parks plan must be consistent with its comprehensive plan.
Because the sole condition under which this reconveyance can be contemplated is that the county's request be for a "park," it has become necessary to completely torture the language, and abuse the intelligence of listeners, in order to feign appropriety. The DNR has a duty as trustee of these lands to challenge the misrepresentations of the park proponents, and demand they quit equivocating as to their real intentions and/or the inconsistency of their proposal with the relevant laws.
The ingenuousness of these representations to DNR were amply demonstrated recently when the county parks director responded to a remark from the chairman of the Whatcom County Council at a meeting of its Natural Resources Committee. According to the minutes, when it was pointed out to him that parks are not allowed in commercial forestry zones, the director acknowledged that an actual park in this location could require some rezoning. He then went on to add, however, that, "they don't need to do a rezone to call it a park."
The distinction he made is at the heart of the issue.
If this is not a park, then the proposal needn't be considered further. If this is to be a park, then the process to in fact rezone the lands, and amend our comprehensive plan accordingly, as required by our laws, should be undertaken before reconveying the lands held in trust.
Whatcom County does not have the authority under its present laws to represent they are in fact going to be able to use the lands in question for a park, and all the word games will not change the fact.