PORT TOWNSEND — Opposition to a logging project within the boundaries of the Port Ludlow master planned resort drew nearly 70 protesters to Monday’s meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.
The protesters arrived at the courthouse in a bus, filling the chamber.
Half of the chairs were removed to accommodate their number although about 30 people spilled out into the hall.
The group presented a 900-signature petition, calling for an end of all timber harvesting within the boundaries of the master planned resort that is not directly connected to residential construction.
Port Ludlow Associates, owner and operator of the Inn at Port Ludlow, sought to clearcut 144 acres within the boundaries of the resort but harvested about one quarter of that amount before the county stopped the process in 2015 due to citizen complaints.
Port Ludlow Associates began the logging operation to finance other projects, according to company president Diana Smeland.
On Monday, several project opponents said that logging violates the covenants under which the resort was established.
Bill Dean, a spokesman for the group, said the original 1989 agreement between former owners Pope Resources and the county stated that “all maintenance of landscaping shall be done to enhance the existing character of South Bay.
“County planning documents in 1993 talk about the permanent open space and in 1995 anticipated a wide greenbelt surrounding Port Ludlow to act as a buffer against logging activity on adjacent lands,” he said.
Dean said in 2000 the county ruled that the open space reserve shall be maintained in perpetuity and serve to enhance the aesthetic quality of the master planned resort.
“Clear cutting is a lot of things but enhancing aesthetic qualities is not one of them,” he said.
“This clear cut will come right down the side of our village,” said Gil Skinner, the president of the South Bay Community Association.
“We have been told to let the process work, but it’s not working so it’s time for the community to come out and show that we care.”
Skinner asked the commissioners to “start doing your jobs” and asked those present to wave their signs to show their commitment.
At that point, District 3 Commissioner Kathleen Kler, the board chair, thanked the group for their enthusiasm but cautioned against further outbursts, saying “we do know how to read.”
In September, the county commissioners voted to enter a mediation agreement between the county and Port Ludlow Associates, with the next such meeting scheduled for May 20.
About midway into the 30-minute comment period, Smeland took the podium and said she had met twice with project opponent Dean and senior planner David Wayne Johnson to negotiate next steps.
“We continue to be diligent in our efforts,” she said. “We are educating ourselves and looking for ways to work through this process.”
After the meeting Smeland declined further comment, saying “it’s still under mediation and there isn’t a lot I can say.”
County Administrator Philip Morley commended Smeland for speaking out.
“Being here exhibits a certain amount of courage on her part,” Morley said.
“And I appreciate that all parties have been able to listen to each other with respect.”
Morley said the mediator is currently studying the situation “to make sure there is progress and something to mediate about.”
The logging process has been suspended until the mediation is complete.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, it could lead to a court action, something which Kler would like to avoid.
“The cost of litigation falls upon all the citizens of the county,” she said.
“I think we have a fiduciary responsibility, and we are being cautious about this cost.”
Kler said if time elapses with no resolution, it could be harder to find a solution.
“We want this to be solved so we can all move on,” she said.
“But we can’t put the trees back up, and part of mediation is to decide how you take care of something that is damaged.”
________Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.