Lawsuits an issue in lands commissioner debate held in Port Angeles

Steve McLaughlin and his opponent, Hilary Franz, squared off during the last of their nine general election campaign forums.

Steve McLaughlin

Steve McLaughlin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This has been corrected. Steve McLaughlin did not say that Hilary Franz has sued the state Department of Natural Resources.

PORT ANGELES — Republican state public lands commissioner candidate Steve McLaughlin, a Navy veteran, bore down on his opponent, Democrat Hilary Franz, an environmental attorney, on Tuesday in Port Angeles during the last of their nine general election campaign forums held throughout the state.

McLaughlin, at one point waving a file folder he said contained legal documents, criticized Franz, executive director of the environmental public interest land-use group Futurewise, for filing lawsuits that limited harvest levels on trust land managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

“There have been 31 lawsuits filed by my opponent in the last five years,” he told more than 60 attendees of the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting at Joshua’s restaurant.

McLaughlin also said that a Seattle attorney has sued DNR “more than any person in the history of the department.” He did not name the attorney at the debate. On Wednesday, he said he was referring to Peter Goldman, who supports Franz.

Futurewise unsuccessfully challenged Clallam County’s Carlsborg sewer plan and other elements in the county comprehensive plan about four years ago.

Franz responded to McLaughlin’s allegation after he raised it for the third time, near the end of the hourlong forum.

“I haven’t brought 31 lawsuits,” Franz said, saying in a later interview that the Futurewise board makes that decision, not her.

Futurewise overused employed litigation as “a shot across the bow” in Washington state, she told the group.

“They had the right mission and were using the wrong tool,” said Franz, a former Bainbridge Island City Council member.

McLaughlin, a former Navy commander, championed clearcutting.

“Clearcutting is a silvaculturally approved method that has been tested over time,” he said.

When clearcutting is not employed, it suppresses tree growth by not opening up the landscape, McLaughlin added.

DNR’s Olympic Region — one of six regions manager by DNR — includes 371,000 acres of state forest, agriculture, urban and conservation lands in Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

The Olympic Region includes the Olympic Experimental State Forest in western Clallam and Jefferson counties.

McLaughlin also criticized Franz for suggesting that trust land revenue should be “decoupled” from funding school construction and replaced with an increase in the state business and occupation tax.

“The idea that great schools require that we log our forests in an environmentally harmful and unsustainable way is antithetical to our values and to logic,” she told the magazine Lens in a voter guide questionnaire.

“With a growing population and an ever-increasing need for schools, it is also unsustainable,” she said.

Franz told forum participants that education funding is “falling way too short” and that the state Legislature continues to be taken to task for not fully funding education according to the dictates of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

“I would put everything on the table” if elected as lands commissioner, she said.

Both said that if they were elected, they would address arrearages, or the issue of trust lands eligible for harvesting not being harvested, an issue that received attention in Clallam County.

McLaughlin said he would focus on coastal counties, where there is more opportunity to create county infrastructure from trust lands.

“If we are putting people back to work, it’s helping reduce arrearages, which keeps your tax base and gives jobs,” he said.

Franz said she would study why DNR is so far behind and what have been the barriers, “community by community.”

She said she would appoint staff to work in DNR regions directly with communities to maximize the economic benefits of DNR resources, adding that she would conduct an “asset management analysis” of those resources.

With the threat of climate change, “we need those natural resources more than ever,” Franz said.

McLaughlin said he would stay away from appointing regional advisers.

“My advisers are sitting in a room right here,” he said.

“Let’s use the people as advisers,” he said, rather than have a government employee fill that role.

The Department of Natural Resources was established in 1957.

It has 1,235 permanent, year-round workers and a $265 million operating budget.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Hilary Franz

Hilary Franz

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