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Source: The Bellingham Herald

Sep, 22, 2007

ENVIRONMENT

County, DNR picture land around lake as park area

JARED PABEN

The state and Whatcom County are working on a plan that could involve transferring thousands of acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed for use as park land, County Council member Dan McShane said.

The talks between the county and state Department of Natural Resources involve transferring management of DNR-run county land to Whatcom County, which would manage it as park land, said McShane, who brought the idea to County Executive Pete Kremen about a year and a half ago but isn’t directly involved in the county-state talks.

“It’s going to matter a lot,” McShane said. “Five hundred years from now, when Bellingham is whatever Bellingham is — a big city — we’re going to have this incredible park.

“I know this is going to be a great thing for the community for many years,” he added.

McShane said Kremen and county Deputy Administrator Dewey Desler have kept him updated on discussions. Kremen confirmed he’s updated McShane, and that the council member first brought the idea to him.

The county-owned lands are spread west, south and east of the lake, with a large block above Sudden Valley, McShane said.

The agreement was announced Friday afternoon after a meeting involving Kremen and Doug Sutherland, the DNR commissioner of public lands. Kremen, after the meeting, said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the proposal, citing a promise he made to Sutherland. The county and state have been in discussions for “well over a year,” he said.

He did say the county last year set aside about $300,000 for this year’s budget to pay for staff time, surveying and land appraisals.

Sutherland wouldn’t comment on what he and county officials were discussing.

County Parks & Recreation Director Michael McFarlane said the deal provides many opportunities for connecting county parks and trails.

“We’re trying to tie those together into either a larger park area or some connectivity between,” he said.

The natural resources department manages about 15,000 acres in the watershed, and between 8,000 and 8,500 acres of that is owned by the county and could be transferred to county management, McShane said. Because Whatcom County gets money from the sale of timber on the land that’s cut by the Department of Natural Resources, any transfer could initially result in the loss of several hundred thousand dollars a year, McShane said.

Before land could be swapped, the county would have to develop a parks plan for it and gain approval from the state parks board, he said.

The DNR-managed lands there already have the most restrictive logging rules in Washington, McShane said. But there’s concern DNR could swap the land with owners who wouldn’t be bound by those rules. Also, he said, Skagit County has sued over the rules, seeking to allow more logging.

City and county officials have tried to preserve land in the watershed because Lake Whatcom, drinking-water source of about 91,000 Bellingham-area residents, is seeing deteriorating water quality.

Kremen said he and Sutherland will have an agreement by the end of the year, and he’ll bring the agreement to the County Council for approval.

Reach Jared Paben at 715-2289 or jared.paben@bellinghamherald.com.

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