Bill could save millions for Kitsap Forest and Bay Project

Sunday, Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation, ESHB 2502, that could save millions of dollars towards an effort to conserve nearly 6,700 acres of undeveloped lowland forest at Port Gamble Bay in northern Kitsap County, according to a release by Forterra, formerly known as Cascade Land Conservency.

“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish to save Puget Sound. Passage of this bill demonstrates the commitment of our state’s leaders to this project. We are thankful to the Governor and legislative sponsors for their leadership,” said Forterra president Gene Duvernoy. “We can celebrate the signing of this bill thanks in part to the Kitsap Forest and Bay Coalition led by Great Peninsula Conservancy.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen-D Bainbridge Island, expands an exemption from back property taxes, or compensating taxes, that are ordinarily paid when land is removed from commercial forestry for residential development or other purposes when that land is instead conserved for public use or enjoyment. The bill expands this specific exemption, which already existed for Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties, to include Kitsap and Thurston Counties. This could save as much as $7 million towards the acquisition, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

"Conservation of these lands is a once-in-forever opportunity," said Hansen.

"The community’s commitment to this project is inspiring. Everyone wants this,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes-D, Bainbridge Island.

After 160 years of growing trees and milling lumber at Port Gamble, Pope Resources has offered the public an opportunity to determine the future of these lands. The forests, shorelines, and waters of North  Kitsap currently are enjoyed by many for walking, biking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking and harvesting shellfish on a daily basis. These activities enrich the community, support healthy lifestyles, and sustain
cultural traditions. These lands and waters also support commercial enterprises, including a robust and growing eco-recreation industry and commercial fisheries.

“We are encouraged by the broad based support for this legislation and look forward to working with the community to ensure these lands continue to support the region’s quality of life” said David Nunes,  president and CEO of Pope Resources.

Forterra entered into an 18 month option agreement last fall with Pope Resources. Now Kitsap Forest and Bay Project partners, including Kitsap County, Forterra, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Suquamish Tribe and Great Peninsula Conservancy, have just one year left to put together a funding proposal to conserve these lands.

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder notes that the "the bill’s passage is an important piece of the puzzle and demonstrates support from our state leaders.”

“Passage represents the culmination of hard work by my partners in the legislature and the Kitsap community,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton-D, Poulsbo.



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