Coalition has one year to close purchase of forestland, shoreline

PORT GAMBLE — The Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition is exercising its option to purchase forestland and shoreline in North Kitsap from Pope Resources.

Forterra, which is leading a coalition that wants to acquire forestland and shoreline for conservation and public open space, had until Thursday to identify funding sources for the purchase. The purchase must close by March 28, 2014, according to Forterra.

“We really appreciate Pope [Resources’] cooperation and the leadership of Kitsap County and the [Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish] Tribes to make this possible,” Forterra Executive Vice President Michelle Conner said.

Pope Resources wants to sell its North Kitsap forestland and focus on further developing Port Gamble. The option means Pope held off on putting its 7,000 acres on the market, to give the coalition time to raise money for acquisition.

The acreage is split into five blocks: 4,000 acres south of the Port Gamble townsite, 2,000 acres in Hansville, 650 acres in the Miller Bay watershed, 520 acres along the Port Gamble Bay shoreline, and 366 acres adjacent to Heritage Park on Miller Bay Road.

As of Thursday, the coalition had raised approximately $12 million, but the amount of acreage that will buy is unknown; Liz Johnston, conservation transactions director for Forterra, said the property’s appraisal cannot be released while in negotiations.

“We’ll fit all the puzzle pieces together to conserve as much of the property as possible.”

There is general agreement that the coalition has raised enough money to buy the so-called Shoreline Block, which contains a 1.8-mile stretch of shoreline along the west side of Port Gamble Bay.

All the funding is earmarked for specific areas, said Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, which applied for some of the grants.

“We’ll only get once chance at it. When it’s lost, it’s lost,” County Commissioner Rob Gelder said.

Forterra, an environmental nonprofit organization, is acting as facilitator for the principal groups: Kitsap County, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Suquamish Tribe, and more than 20 other member organizations.

The fundraising effort “triggers a lot of other discussions.”

Eric Baker, special projects manager for Kitsap County, said what will be bought is not a simple geography question.

“The principals have not determined how to spread those dollars around, whether to buy in a [geographic] boundary, allow Pope to log, or buy the trees and allow development,” he said.

Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish are expected to be stewards of some of the parcels, but Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said S’Klallam is looking at purchasing some of the land through its own means.

Johnston said Forterra has submitted its notice to exercise the option — meaning the coalition has raised enough money to continue with a purchase. Forterra is moving forward on all five blocks, giving the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe more time to consider the Hansville block purchase.

“We were able to demonstrate an earnest money indicator to Pope that we’re prepared to move ahead on negotiations for the Hansville block … with support of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe,” she said.

The Hansville block, which borders the reservation to the north, has not received any grants so far.

Sullivan said the Tribal Council wanted to keep the option agreement open.

“But [we, they] haven’t decided how much [funding] or how much land or how we’re going to acquire that land,” he said. “We have our priorities and our priorities haven’t changed.

“I think [the agreement’s extension] is great for all 7,000 acres, I think it’s obtainable,” he said.

Staples-Bortner said the Great Peninsula Conservancy is “seriously considering” reaching out to the public for a capital campaign to try and purchase more of the land.

“I am thrilled by how this coalition has worked together as a team,” she said, being represented by trails, cultural heritage and habitat groups.

The state Legislature is currently debating regarding the budget, which includes a few grants for this project. Staples-Bortner said the coalition expects to hear in April if the grants are awarded, and the funding would come in July.

The project has received, so far:
— $9 million from the state Department of Ecology, committed by the state legislature in 2011. The majority of that funding, $7 million, is part of the state’s contribution to the clean-up of Port Gamble Bay. The cleanup agreement between Ecology and Pope was finalized March 22. 
— $3.05 million from the Navy’s mitigation agreement to the Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribes for shoreline acquisition.
— $1 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, for shoreline acquisition.
— $400,000 from the U.S. Forest Service for the Heritage Park Addition.

Grants pending: A total of $3.65 million for shoreline acquisition, the Divide Block, and the Heritage Park Expansion from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, said in an earlier interview the company was not going to “foreclose” on the grant opportunities still pending just because they are not announced by March 28.

“Whatever grants they have in place that we have agreed it’s appropriate for them to go after, we’re going to see how those play out,” he said.

Rose said the company has been working on a community partnership for the land in Port Gamble since 2007.

“The potential level [of the grant funding] is larger than I could imagine it could be, and that’s great,” Rose said, adding that the community has “done an amazing job.”

He said partnering with the community for these kind of environmental efforts is a Pope business practice. “We make a habit of trying to find important and very authentic partnership opportunities for the community,” Rose said.

Preserving this large amount of land, particularly surrounding Port Gamble Bay, is considered an investment in North Kitsap’s cultural and environmental resources.

Gelder said the acquisition will boost the local economy by the recreational tourism opportunities it will create. He said the project will have a big impact on water resource protection; North Kitsap is drier than the rest of the county and cannot rely on snow melt or reservoirs for water. By avoiding development on our most impervious surfaces — the sands and soils around Port Gamble Bay — we can protect our aquifers, he said.

Any acquired land will have conservation easements.


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