SEATTLE — The state’s newly elected lands commissioner says her top priorities will be to find ways to strengthen local rural economies and to prepare state lands and communities to deal with climate change.
Hilary Franz, an environmental attorney who beat out retired Navy commander Steve McLaughlin, will take over the helm at the Department of Natural Resources in January from two-term commissioner Peter Goldmark.
She will lead the state’s largest firefighting force, manage 5.6 million acres of state-owned lands and ensure revenues from logging, land leases and other operations for school construction and other projects.
Franz said in an interview this month that the agency needs critical funding to better manage wildfires and restore the health of forests that are in poor shape.
“The legislative session is going to be absolutely critical,” she said, though she added it won’t be easy given competing budget needs and a court mandate to fully fund the state’s basic education system.
Franz won 53 percent of the statewide vote in November, but carried only eight counties — all located west of the Cascades. She lost by a landslide in some Eastern Washington counties.
Kit Arbuckle, chairman of the Okanogan County GOP, said he hopes Franz will heed the concerns of those living in Eastern Washington and rural areas. He wants to see better management of forests, including reasonable logging, and a better balance between the needs of wildlife and people.
Franz said her administration will focus on building relationships with local and state leaders in rural communities and finding economic opportunities that make the best use of state lands.
Franz had led McLaughlin in fundraising through much of the election but the state Republican Party gave more than $300,000 in the final stretch of the election to put McLaughlin ahead. He raised $730,000 to her $526,000.
Her opponent had sought to portray her as a career litigator who would back away from the agency’s mandate to manage state lands for trust beneficiaries, including K-12 school construction, state buildings and counties.
Franz says DNR has a role to play in paying for schools and timber harvests are part of the solution. But she wants to work with communities to find the best ways to maximize revenue, whether leasing it for wind or solar power or other economic development.
During the campaign, Franz said she was opposed to fossil fuel projects — which could present a problem for a coal-export terminal proposed at Longview.
DNR says Millennium Bulk Terminals would need additional agency authorization for the project, noting that the state’s lease is with another party and not with Millennium.
Bill Chapman, president and CEO for Millennium Bulk Terminals, said in a statement last Friday that the company’s “existing aquatic lease is adequate for the proposal that we submitted.”
“As a candidate running for office [Franz] acknowledged the importance of respecting local community interests; and as a lawyer we know she will want to respect the law and existing lease arrangements,” Chapman said.
Franz this month affirmed her opposition to leasing state lands for fossil fuel projects.
She said she has not been briefed on whether the Longview project needs a new lease or not.
“I don’t know if that’s the case or not. At this point, if we are in a position of having to provide a lease or not provide a lease, I would not support the lease,” she said.
Franz said Washington has an opportunity to lead on issues of climate change and creating jobs through promoting renewable energy such as wind, solar or biomass.
“It’s not wise for any of us to ignore the impacts of climate change and also the opportunity it presents not only for the environment but economically,” she said.