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Citizens’ group sues DNR over land sale

KINGSTON — The possible transfer of ownership of 390 acres between the state and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is unconstitutional and should be stopped claims a newly-formed North Kitsap Concerned Citizens group.

The group filed suit against the Department of Natural Resources in Kitsap County Superior Court last week alleging the transfer would violate the Washington State Constitution.

“I regret it, but it has to be done,” said Charles Turner, the group’s secretary, “We’re going to thrash it out in court.”

No decision regarding the sale of the property has been made, said Todd Myers, a DNR spokesman.

The S’Klallam Tribe has had its eye on the DNR-owned parcel for about nine years. The tribe submitted a request for an appraisal of the land, getting the lengthy transfer process started.

This recent development has some residents concerned that the state would not get the most amount of money for the land.

“Their (the tribe’s) bid would be the highest and the lowest because there’s just one,” Turner said. It’s not a matter of who’s buying the land that the citizens’ group rejects, but a matter of how.

“It could be the Boy Scouts of America or the Daughters of the American Revolution... I don’t care who buys the land,” Turner said.

The Port of Kingston and the North Kitsap School District have also expressed interest in the parcel.

According to the state constitution, certain lands must be sold at public auction to the highest bidder.

Article XVI section 2 of the constitution states, “None of the lands granted to the state for educational purposes shall be sold otherwise than at

public auction to the highest bidder... The land’s value should be appraised and no sale should be made if the price paid for the land does not equal the appraised value.”

The land in question is adjacent to the southern boundary of the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe’s reservation and extends to roughly 288th at the south, Hansville Road to the east and Gamble Bay Road on the west. It is categorized as common school trust land that Washington received from the federal government in 1889 when it became a state.

About 1.8 million acres or 31.9 percent of the land DNR manages is designated as school trust land.

The Department of Natural Resources, however, points to another state law that allows for the transfer of real property from one public entity (including federally recognized Indian tribes) to another.

“We follow the law we think is applicable,” said Todd Myers, DNR spokesperson.

With board approval, the RCW states the department “may directly transfer or dispose of real property, without public auction” if it goes to another public agency for market value.

Turner is aware of the statute and believes the constitution will have the final say over the matter.

“We are a country of laws, not of men and women,” Turner said.

Those laws, he said, should be consistent with the constitution.

Kitsap County zoned the property for low-density residential development of 1 home per 20 acres. This zoning and isolation from other DNR-managed trust lands have made the property more difficult to manage than larger blocks of land. The department has decided to dispose of this land and purchase a replacement piece.

A public hearing on the land transfer is planned for no sooner than March.

The two groups, however, agree on one thing, going to court is not the best solution.

“Lawsuits are the worst way to solve this problem,” Myers said.

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