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Conservancy has 18 months to raise funds for North Kitsap land, waterfront acquisition
PORT GAMBLE — Cascade Land Conservancy has formed a “formidable” partnership with Pope Resources and several interested organizations to acquire 7,000 acres of Pope Resources land around Port Gamble for preservation.
The conservancy has 18 months to identify its funding sources to buy 7,000 acres of forest land and 1.8 miles of shoreline from Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate arm.
“This can lead this region [and is] among the most important projects to save Puget Sound,” conservancy President Gene Duvernoy said. “It may not be the most robust economy, but this is the time to do it.”
David Nunes, president and CEO of Pope Resources, said the option agreement with the conservancy is flexible — the conservancy is not locked into a price, which will be determined by land appraisers. Jon Rose, Olympic Property Group president, speculated the price for all the land would be less than $70 million.
As Duvernoy said at Wednesday’s meeting in Port Gamble, now the work begins. Kitsap County has already applied for a coastal land protection grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Because of the land’s scale and real estate value, the conservancy’s goal is to raise as much money as possible and focus on securing the shoreline first.
To fund the forestry part will take more creative ideas, according to conservancy Executive Vice President Michelle Conner. She predicted it may be difficult to gain forest legacy program funding, which usually helps smaller forests. She said it will be up to the conservancy’s numerous partners to apply for grants and other funding, and pool the funding together.
The conservancy has partnered with several organizations and agencies, including the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes, Kitsap County, North Kitsap Trails Association, Great Peninsula Conservancy, Great Kitsap Forest and Bay Project, Hood Canal Coordinating Council and others. It also has the support of surrounding counties and political leaders.
“This is more than a once in a lifetime opportunity, this is a once in a history opportunity,” Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said.
Conner said the agreement with Pope is generous, giving the conservancy 18 months to identify resources and funding opportunities, and another 12 months to “perfect” the process. They also have an option to finance some of the land from Pope in that two and a half years.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan and Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman were also on hand, and were applauded for their longstanding commitment to the project.
The S’Klallam Singers were also on-hand to give a vibrant offering of traditional songs to an appreciative crowd.
“We have an ancestral village on this side of the bay ... The bay has been our source of economic growth, and sustained us a culture and as a people,” Sullivan said. “We need to keep it going for future generations.”
Both Sullivan and Forsman said no money has been set aside from tribal funds, but both plan to advocate for grants that tribes have more access to than other organizations.
Although it will most likely take grant funding to purchase the majority of the land, all partners also saw the economic benefits of using the land for recreational purposes. Duvernoy pointed out that visitors who come to hike, bike, birdwatch or kayak will also eat in area restaurants, stay in hotels and shop in the stores.
This plan was once called the Legacy Partnership, when Pope Resources and the county began working out a deal for the county to acquire the 7,000 acres if 15 percent of the forested land near Port Gamble could be used for higher-density development rights. Many parties spoke out against this, including Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. A new deal was sought after County Commissioner Steve Bauer resigned.
Duvernoy said the conservancy has been negotiating its agreement with Pope for the last 18 months.
Pope Resources, a timber company, has owned and managed the land around Port Gamble Bay for nearly 160 years. It owns 8,000 acres in North Kitsap, and in 2007, the company announced that it planned to sell much of its acreage in North Kitsap, first pursuing land conservation.
Approaching conservation before selling the land on the open market was a “deliberate exit strategy,” Nunes said. If Pope had put the land on the market in 2007, “we would have made a killing.” But Nunes said Pope wanted to leave a legacy for the thousands of people who use the undeveloped land every year.
Pope is also nearing the completion of its environmental clean-up project in the area — removing landfills, dredging the bay, and cleaning up the old mill site — to mend more than 100 years of industrial production.
Since its founding in 1989, Cascade Land Conservancy has grown into the largest land conservation, stewardship and community building organization in Washington state. They were asked to spearhead this effort due to its strong history of accomplishing large projects, such as the Vashon-Maury Island preservation project, a $25 million venture to protect one mile of waterfront.
“This is an iconic property,” Duvernoy said of the Kitsap plan. “I’ve never seen such strong and diverse partnerships ... This kind of work defines and creates a community.”
The land being offered for sale by Pope Resources consists of five segments:
- 4,000 acres south of the Port Gamble townsite
- 2,000 acres in Hansville
- 650 acres in the Miller Bay watershed
- 560 acres along the Port Gamble Bay shoreline
- 366 acres adjacent to Heritage Park on Miller Bay Road.