Deadline nears for option on NK land

PORT GAMBLE — Sixty-three days.

That’s how much time the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition has left in its option agreement to purchase up to 7,000 acres of North Kitsap timberland and shoreline from Pope Resources.

Jon Rose, president of Pope Resources’ Olympic Property Group, said he doesn’t think the coalition will raise enough money by the March 28 deadline to buy all of Pope’s North Kitsap land. But transactions are likely as the coalition and Pope consider a complex package of price offsets and funds from a variety of sources.

Pope Resources agreed in fall 2011 to keep the land off the market while the coalition raises money to purchase the land for conservation, public open space, trails and non-motorized access to the water.

The agreement expires March 28. After that, Pope Resources officials have said they plan to sell the unpurchased acreage, which is zoned rural wooded, or one home per 20-acre lot. Pope will then turn its attention to developing Port Gamble.

Pope’s real estate arm, Olympic Property Group, submitted its Port Gamble master plan to the county Jan. 17, the first step in the permit process. The plan calls for development of homes, an inn, a dock, waterfront trails, and an agricultural area with a creamery, garden plots, greenhouses, an orchard and a winery.

The land Pope is selling is divided into five blocks: Port Gamble Upland Block, 3,316 acres; Port Gamble Shoreline Block, 564 acres, including 1.8 miles of shoreline; Hansville Block, 1,784 acres; Divide Block, 664 acres; and the Heritage Park Expansion Block, 366 acres.

Liz Johnston, conservation transactions director for Forterra, which is leading the coalition, said she’s waiting for Pope Resources and the state Department of Ecology to agree to a cost-sharing plan for the cleanup of the Port Gamble mill site and adjacent shoreline.

“We’re very close,”  Rose said Jan. 23. “There are very few issues that separate us. We’re hoping [for an agreement] any day now.”

That agreement will release $7 million approved by the state Legislature last year for purchase of Port Gamble Bay shoreline. It will also free up Forterra and Pope to hunker down for what are expected to be complex negotiations involving price offsets and funds from a variety of sources.

An appraisal for the 7,000 acres has been completed and the appraised value accepted by Forterra and Pope; Johnston would not disclose the appraisal, saying it’s “proprietary information.”

In addition to the $7 million from the state, Johnston said Kitsap County has received $400,000 from the U.S. Forest Service for the Heritage Park Addition.

Grants pending: A total of $3.25 million for shoreline acquisition, $1 million for the Divide Block, and another $392,000 for the Heritage Park Expansion. Four of those grants are state grants; three of them are “in the top queue” of grant requests, Johnston said.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe received up to $3.5 million to help acquire shoreline; the money is part of a settlement from the Navy for salmon habitat impacts from the second explosive weapons-handling wharf under construction at Naval Base Bangor.

In addition, OPG’s Rose has suggested some ways the sales price could be lowered, such as Pope retaining some timber harvest rights, but he said those options have to come from the coalition.

“What we are trying to do is understand what the funding looks like, what can they do with [the funding] they’re likely to get,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to keep working on this. We’re making some assumptions right now, but if they’re getting positive news of funding that could come shortly after [the deadline] or within a couple of months, we’re still going to honor their work.”

Michelle Connor, executive vice president of Forterra, said her conservation group has used value transfers and timber harvest rights before. And Johnston said, “We’re discussing all of the different options. Everything is on the table. We have a lot of different options in place right now.”

In an earlier interview, Leda Chahim, director of government affairs for Forterra, noted the significance of any purchase made: The land has been owned for more than 150 years by one company, Pope Resources. Before that, it was the territory of the indigenous people of the area: the S’Klallam. “That’s what’s so exciting about this. There are not that many properties in Washington state that have been in this length of ownership. To get it into major conservancy status will be very cool.”


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