Trust lands advisory panel says ‘no’ to reconveyance to Clallam County

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Trust Lands Advisory Committee has reaffirmed its position on the reconveyance of state-managed forest trust lands: don’t try it.

The ad hoc committee voted 9-3 Friday against a recommendation to reconvey 92,525 acres of state Department of Natural Resources timberland back to the county for management.

The same committee voted 14-1 against reconveyance in June, but that action was determined to be invalid because the item was not posted on an agenda.

Instead of recommending reconveyance to the three county commissioners, the trust lands panel will make a series of recommendations to the board.

The recommendations will provide “guidance to ensure continual engagement with the Department of Natural Resources on how it’s promptly and adequately fulfilling its trust land objectives to Clallam County, its taxing districts and citizenry,” according to its charge.

Revenue from DNR timber sales supports timber counties, public schools and universities, and a host of junior taxing districts such as hospitals and fire departments.

Committee members voted on 13 recommendations in a six-hour meeting Friday.

Notably, the panel voted 6-5 to recommend that commissioners hire a county staffer or consultant with forestry experience to act as a liaison with DNR.

It also voted unanimously to ask commissioners to seek a resource inventory of DNR trust lands with annual updates from the agency.

Several recommendations died for a lack of a motion to approve them.

The committee will refine its recommendations Dec. 16 — and possibly Dec. 29 — before submitting a final report to the board.

Committee members heard public testimony from 10 speakers who were opposed to reconveyance.

Several said reconveyance would expose the county to liability and would never be supported by the legislature and governor.

“It’s a diversion,” said Mark Sullivan of Sequim. “It’s a distraction. It’s a sideshow.”

Norma Turner of Port Angeles, one of four Charter Review Commission members who were opposed to the formation of the trust lands committee, said the panel should focus on policies that would keep logs from being exported rather than reconveyance.

“At the county, we already have enough on our plate — juvenile services, roads, opiate problem, homelessness,” Turner said.

“I don’t think we need to add one more thing to the local management.”

Committee members Robert Lea, Connie Beauvais and Joe Murray voted in favor of reconveyance.

Those who voted against reconveyance were Kenneth Reandeau, Ben Pacheco, Susanne Scott, Mike Doherty, Toby Thaler, Rod Fleck, Coleman Byrnes, Bob Sextro and Cynthia Bork.

One of the catalysts for the formation of the committee was arrearage, the variance between what DNR promised to sell and what was actually sold.

Some industry officials and junior taxing districts have blamed arrearage for mill closures and significant reductions in revenue.

“I think folks need to understand the challenge associated with reconveyance, and at the same time understand that while DNR has done some things well, there are other things DNR has not done as well as they could have,” said Fleck, Forks city attorney/planner and a longtime watchdog of DNR trust land management.

“That there needs to be an engagement by the county and its junior taxing districts outside of the city of Forks and Quillayute Valley School District — we have a longstanding history in this area for 30 years — that there needs to be some level of accounting and and inventory that makes sense.”

Here’s a rundown of the recommendations that the Clallam County Trust Lands Advisory Committee considered Friday:

• Should commissioners seek the reconveyance of state forest lands managed by DNR back to Clallam County to be managed by the county? 3 voted yes, 9 voted no.

• Should Clallam County continue its current role with DNR management of Forest Board Transfer Lands (trust lands) without any changes? 1 voted yes, 9 voted no, 2 abstained.

• Should commissioners seek to establish a collaborative means of managing with the DNR its management of trust lands? 0 voted yes, 10 voted no, 2 abstained.

• Should commissioners hire a staffer/consultant with forestry experience to act as a liaison with DNR in order to monitor, engage, respond and question DNR management of trust lands? 6 voted yes, 5 voted no.

• Should commissioners establish a representative advisory committee with some level of staff support that would advise the board on DNR’s management of its trust lands? 6 voted yes, 7 voted no.

• Should commissioners as a minimum seek from the DNR an accurate, updated, maintained and detailed resource inventory of its trust lands to include all resources with annual updates? 12 voted yes, 0 voted no.

• Should commissioners establish a means of coordinated, regular and meaningful outreach with the trust beneficiaries and the public regarding trust lands? 15 voted yes, 1 voted no, 1 abstained.

• Should commissioners establish a means of overseeing and monitoring the DNR’s revenue generating methods regarding trust lands? 4 voted yes, 13 voted no.

• Should commissioners seek a trust accounting/performance audit of the DNR’s management of its trust lands? 10 voted yes, 5 voted no, 2 abstained.

• Should commissioners seek from the DNR ways to increase revenues from recreational uses, road use, forest products, etc., on trust lands and a means to secure reoccurring revenues from future carbon sequestration markets? 10 voted yes, 6 voted no, 1 abstained.

• Should commissioners seek other revenue sources for county revenues such as increasing property taxes? 4 voted yes, 12 voted no, 1 abstained.

• Should commissioners seek a means of increasing revenue through advocating for a state income tax? No motion.

• Should commissioners reduce county services associated with DNR revenues when revenues decline? No motion.

• Should commissioners expand the ability of the liaison to use ecosystem services values in reviewing DNR trust land management? No motion.

• Should commissioners seek an economic study of private and public forest lands that reviews such items as harvesting, milling, exports and land conversions in Clallam County? No motion.

• Should commissioners seek from the federal government compensation for lost revenues associated with how the DNR’s Habitat Conservation Plan applied to trust lands? 2 voted yes, 15 voted no.

• Should commissioners seek that its trust lands be sold and the proceeds be reinvested? 0 voted yes, 17 voted no.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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