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Bay project forages for funds

PORT GAMBLE — Those searching for funds and support for the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project are feeling the pressure.

“People out there may be wondering, why now,” County Commissioner Rob Gelder said. “This is only going to happen once, it’s now or potentially never.” Gelder was speaking at a Kitsap Forest and Bay Coalition luncheon April 18, at the Port Gamble S’Klallam longhouse.

The Kitsap Forest & Bay Project is a community effort to conserve nearly 7,000 acres of forest and 1.8 miles of shoreline in North Kitsap. The landowner, Pope Resources, reached an agreement with environmental organizations and Kitsap County to find funding to buy the land, preserving as open space for generations to come.

However, Michelle Conner, executive vice president of Forterra, formerly known as Cascade Land Conservancy, said they are making significant progress. The biggest pieces to fall into place so far are $7 million for the shoreline acquisition and $2 million to protect a geoduck bed to the west of the mill site, from the state Legislature; and a change in the tax code that eases the cost of buying land for open space purposes.

The money from the Legislature is tied up until a cleanup agreement is signed between Pope Resources, the state and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, said he expects cleanup agreement discussions to begin in May. Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23rd District, pushed for a bill which eliminated the “compensating tax” that would make the project “financially prohibitive.”

The Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to funding. Forterra and Great Peninsula Conservancy are also writing several grant proposals for several parts of the project. From various state and federal agencies, the two conservancies are applying for: two $1 million grants specifically for the shoreline; $1 million grant for the wetland property; $1 million grant for the Divide Property (Grover’s Creek); $1 million for the North Kitsap Heritage Park expansion; and $400,000 for community forest/open space. All the grant applications are due in early May.

If the coalition receives some of these grants, the funds would come in just in time for the option agreement deadline in May 2013, which can be extended if progress is made.

“We have to wait for the processes. [Grant funders] go at their own pace,” Conner said. Forterra has taken up the mantle of foraging for funds.

Another partner, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, had its own discussions with the Navy that may lead to funds for land acquisition. Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said the tribe has signed a mitigation agreement for a planned explosives handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.

“When we first started this discussion, I thought it was a star we couldn’t reach ...,” Sullivan said. Later, referring to the mitigation agreement and the mill site cleanup, “It all seems like it’s coming down at the same time. It’s amazing that that’s how it came down.”

There is no official appraisal of the total land value, but Rose speculated in October 2011, when the agreement was signed, the price for all the land would be less than $70 million.

The appraisal will take place in a few months, said Liz Johnston, conservation transaction director at Forterra.

With the high level of grant competitiveness, public support is key, Johnston said. The coalition has a website, www.kitsapforestbay.org, and a Facebook page. Judy Willott of the Kitsap Audubon Society said her group is encouraging the public to head to these open spaces and beaches, take pictures, and post them to the Facebook page.

The coalition is also planning a sweeping promotion strategy at the many local festivals and events in the area this summer, such as Viking Fest in May, Northwest Adventure Sports Festival in June, Paddle Kitsap in August and Chief Seattle Days in September.

This effort will affect everyone in the Puget Sound area, Conner said.

“This is a story about land and water, but it’s more a story about people,” she said. The land acquisition will lead to conservation, but also provide business from eco-tourism and recreation activities, according to the coalition.

Where is the land?

The land is broken up into five parcels: 
- 3,316 acres surrounding Port Gamble
- 564 acres (1.8 miles) of shoreline on the west side of Gamble Bay
- 1,782 acres known as the Hansville Block
- 662 acres of wetland known as the Divide Block
- 366 acres to expand the North Kitsap Heritage Park

 

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