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Bellingham Herald: "Bellingham, Whatcom County to pay Mount Baker schools over logging"

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June 15, 2009 -- Bellingham and Whatcom County leaders are ready to pay money to the Mount Baker School District to end a longstanding lawsuit challenging restrictive logging rules in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

By Jared Paben

Bellingham and Whatcom County leaders are ready to pay money to the Mount Baker School District to end a longstanding lawsuit challenging restrictive logging rules in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

Bellingham and Whatcom County will provide the district $375,000 this year, money intended to reimburse the district for revenue it loses under the restrictive logging rules, according to a settlement agreement.

The rules, called the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan, restrict the amount of timber that can be cut on state Department of Natural Resources lands. Some of the proceeds from logging on the DNR lands goes to the school district.

In February 2005, the school district, Skagit County and United General Hospital in Skagit County sued the state to roll back the landscape plan, which was originally ordered by the legislature. The rules are aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive areas and ensuring logging doesn't result in harm to the lake, the drinking-water source for more than 91,000 Bellingham-area residents.

Under the terms of a settlement approved in October 2008, the rules would be left intact as long as Bellingham, Whatcom County and the state paid the school district money. Only a small portion of the watershed extends into Skagit County, so the amount Skagit County and the hospital stood to lose was relatively small.

Under the settlement, the state legislature was supposed to provide $725,000 to the district, or the settlement would dissolve and the legal fight would continue. The legislature approved spending the money, according to city records.

That leaves Bellingham and Whatcom County to provide their share by July 1. The Bellingham City Council on Monday, June 15, will consider paying $225,000. A law has been introduced but not yet approved with the County Council that would give $150,000 in 2009 to the district.

Mayor Dan Pike and County Executive Pete Kremen negotiated the amounts the city and county would pay to total the $375,000, said Alan Marriner, assistant city attorney for Bellingham. Along with the school district, Whatcom County will lose revenue from the decreased logging.

"The city is happy that the parties were able to come together and work out a settlement that works for everyone and is protective of Lake Whatcom," Marriner said.

Under the settlement, the city could end up owing another $67,000 in 2010 and the county another $33,000 if the state legislature doesn't take action next session to change how school funding is allocated.