Ellensburg Daily Record: "AFLC plans open houses to answer questions"
By Mary Swift
CLE ELUM — The company hoping to develop a self-contained community on property it owns in the Teanaway has scheduled two open houses aimed at answering concerns about the plan.
The meetings are scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Homestead Barbecue, 801 state Route 970 in Cle Elum and from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Kittitas Room in the Hal Holmes Community Center, 209 N. Ruby St., Ellensburg.
David Bowen, president of the American Forest Land Co. (AFLC), says the meetings aim both to provide information for the public and to give him a chance to hear first-hand the issues and concerns the public has about the proposed development. The company owns some 48,000 of what is largely timberland in the Teanaway.
Questions have swirled around the company’s plans for the area since Kittitas County began a sub-area planning process last summer at the request of the company. The process is intended to develop a long-term plan for the area’s future that respects both the area’s lifestyle and natural resources, including wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The sub-area planning process screeched to an abrupt halt in November when the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners temporarily suspended the effort after a member of the public claimed binders containing documents relating to the company’s previous plans for the area had gone missing from the county’s Community Development Services office. A police investigation ensued. The binders, which AFLC had gotten back from CDS after filing a written request last March, have been turned over to the police and then referred to the county Prosecutor’s Office.
On Wednesday, Kittitas County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Paul Sander said that the investigation centering on the AFLC binders that had been missing from CDS is ongoing. Sander said he was working with two detectives from the Ellensburg Police Department to ensure that there was a complete investigation.
The investigation is moving forward at a steady pace with new information being learned every week since the initial complaint was filed with police, he said.
“We have a number of additional witnesses who need to be interviewed before I can make a final determination as to what charges, if any, should be brought and against which individuals,” Sander said.
Bowen said the company’s request to have the binders returned was an innocent act and not an attempt, as some critics have charged, to hide information.
According to Bowen, who was not employed by AFLC until this past November, the county staff periodically asked if AFLC was going to move forward with segregation requests. Last March, the staff asked again what AFLC wanted done with unprocessed applications.
“The executive management team talked about it,” Bowen said. He said they determined that the sub-area planning process was the best process for evaluating land use options in the Teanaway.
“So they said, ‘Let them (CDS) know we’re going to withdraw the application and request the unprocessed applications back,’” Bowen said. An AFLC employee made the request and two binders containing unprocessed applications were returned to the company.
“Over the last two months, community members have asked questions such as why did AFLC request the documents back, when was the property purchased, why aren’t they doing timber any more, what was in the (missing) binders?” Bowen said.
He said he will answer those and other questions at the open houses. He also has maps to show what previous requests the company made for changes to its property would have looked like. He also will talk about what the company wants to do with the land — and the advantages he sees from that plan.
He said he also wants to hear directly from the community about its concerns.
“I haven’t had the benefit at being at those public (sub-area planning) meetings,” he said. “So I want to have one-on-one conversations and learn what the issues are out there.”
He said he understood “people’s apprehension and resistance” and was hoping to dig through that “to find the real issues. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Bowen also denied accusations that AFLC and the Teanaway Solar Reserve are linked in any way other than the lease of land by TSR from AFLC. In a business sense, he said, “there’s no connection other than we have a lease (TSR leases land from AFLC) and a vested interest in having them be successful.
“Do we work closely with them? Sure,” he said. He said that Howard Trott, head of TSR, and others were the ones charged with responsibility for making it happen and for financing it.
Given that AFLC is leasing the land to TSR, “it’s in our best interest for this project to move forward and come to fruition,” Bowen said. “Are we the ones taking the risk for this? No. That’s Howard Trott and his group.”
If some critics question whether there may be more than just a real estate agreement link between the two companies, the concern — and possible confusion — is understandable.
Both TSR and AFLC are registered as limited liability corporations in Wyoming, a state that is considered business friendly for a number of reasons including low taxes, minimal fees and privacy. Companies registered in Wyoming are not required to disclose stockholders’ names which makes it difficult to know whether persons or organizations involved in TSR might also be involved in AFLC.
Adding to the confusion: some paperwork related to TSR.
A Consent to Appoint a Registered Agent form for the Teanaway Solar Reserve LLC was signed by New York investor John M. Rudey, owner of AFLC, on June 24 of last year. A limited liability company Articles of Organization form for the Teanaway Solar Reserve LLC filed a day later was signed by Maria Corrales, Rudey’s executive assistant.
Meagan Walker, a community outreach person for TSR, said those documents don’t mean Rudey is involved in TSR though he did have a minimal role early in its inception.
“Initially, and I mean in the project’s infancy, Teanaway Solar Reserve was incorporated under one of John Rudey’s umbrellas for ease and expediency,” she said in an e-mail sent Wednesday afternoon in response to questions from the Daily Record.
“It took us two weeks to do all the legal work to get Teanaway Solar Reserve LLC incorporated with Howard Trott as its agent. We had to begin somewhere.
“John Rudey’s AFLC is our landlord. That makes it difficult to insist there is no relationship between us — but that’s the extent of it.”
Bowen said that the public also should not construe the fact that John Rudey’s son, Matthew Rudey, is chief financial officer of Just Energy, a renewable energy company, as evidence that he is somehow involved in the AFLC effort to develop part of its Teanaway holdings.
What Rudey’s son is doing “is entirely independent of what John is doing,” Bowen said. The younger Rudey’s business is in the Northeast, Bowen said.
According to the company’s Web site, Just Energy develops solar voltaic energy systems to reduce energy expenses for educational institutions and other entities. The company develops, owns and operates the solar energy facilities situated on the rooftops or grounds of its customers, then sells the energy directly to the user.