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Ellensburg Daily Record: "Teanaway plan draws heated opposition"

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October 29, 2009 -- More than 100 people attended an October 28 meeting on the Teanaway subarea plan. American Forest Land Co. owns 46,851 of the 56,000 acres that are tentatively included in the subarea and is seeking to develop part of that. The company’s move to alter the use of its land has been controversial, drawing increasingly vocal criticism from local property owners, recreational users and conservation groups.

By Mary Swift, staff writer

CLE ELUM — Call it a baptism of fire for David Bowen, a former Kittitas County commissioner and former county auditor now working for Puget Sound Energy, who was announced Wednesday as the president of the American Forest Land Co. (AFLC).

AFLC’s Wayne Schwandt, a principal in the company, announced Bowen’s hiring before a crowd of more than 100 people who were attending a meeting at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange on the Teanaway subarea plan. A subarea plan focuses developing a long-term plan that protects and promotes important characteristics of the study area and identifies future uses for most of the area.

Schwandt said Bowen would be the company’s spokesperson and a resource for those with questions or concerns. (Bowen can be reached at (509) 899-4950 with questions on the AFLC plan.)

By the time the three-hour meeting was over, Bowen had been scolded publicly by two audience members for taking a job with the company and his wife had risen to his defense after one particularly harsh attack.

There had been talk of lawsuits, accusations that three-ring binders related to a previous effort by the company to change the land use zoning had gone missing — and threats by an audience member that she would go to federal authorities regarding information on problems in the county.

It all added up to high drama, enough so that 83-year-old Violet Burke, who has lived in the Teanaway for 70 years, was fed up by the time the meeting ended.

“I hate seeing people degrade other people,” Burke said. “I don’t like seeing people get up and run other people down. It’s very upsetting.”

AFLC owns 46,851 of the 56,000 acres that are tentatively included in the subarea and is seeking to develop part of that. Bowen will assume his new position on Nov. 9 and become the company’s primary spokesman for the project.

The company’s move to alter the use of its land has been controversial, drawing increasingly vocal criticism from both local property owners, recreational users and conservation groups.

On Wednesday night, with Bowen seated a short distance behind him, Schwandt outlined the company’s vision for its Teanaway property.
He said the company has 39,744 acres in commercial forest land, 6,182 acres designated “forest and range 20 (acres)” and 932 acres designated “rural 3” (three-acre lots).

He told the audience the company wants to develop a “fully contained community” on some of the 6,688 acres in the “core area” of its holdings. That area currently includes commercial forest land, designated forest and range land and land designated rural 3.

He said the company hopes to do a “land exchange” in which designations on some areas would be exchanged to accommodate the development in the core area. The changes would not result in any loss of commercial forest acreage, he said, adding that at least 50 percent — at least 20,000 acres and possibly more — of the company’s commercial forest holdings would be given conservation status to provide perpetual protection for public use.

A “fully contained community,” he said, would be one which included places where people lived, worked, recreated and shopped. The term “fully contained community” does not mean a gated community, Schwandt has said. The proposed village would include affordable, moderate and high-end housing with single, multi-family and mixed-use units that would be home to a diverse population, he said. He said the proposed location within the AFLC holdings mean the village would not be visible to most residents of the area. It also would “be sensitive to the viewshed of the Stuarts” that current residents enjoy.

In past meetings, some critics have questioned the impact of any development on Teanaway Road. “We believe there’s a need for a second access,” Schwandt said. He said the company believes it has “several options” for that access. He also said a fully contained community would have residential, commercial and retail space and its own water system, sanitary waste treatment system and police, fire and emergency services. Initially, he said, those last three might be provided under contract with existing agencies until the community is able to sustain its own operations. He said the company would be looking for ways to contain water run off in the spring melt for use during low-water periods at other times of the year. Although he did not specify it during Wednesday’s meeting, he said earlier that day that the company owns water rights to 597 acre feet of water.

He said the company envisioned 250 acres to be used during “phase one” of the project. But he did not say how many housing units he expected to be built. He said the company is “absolutely committed to green energy.”

The vision Schwandt painted of the area’s possible future drew quick criticism.

“I find it implausible you’ve come this far in the development process and don’t have any idea (how many people will live there),” one man said.

Karl Forsgaard, an attorney with the Washington Forest Law Center, represents a host of conservation groups including the Sierra Club, Ridge, the North Cascades Conservancy, Kittitas County Conservation Coalition and the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, among others. He reiterated the growing opposition of conservation groups to development in the area and, as he did at a previous meeting, disputed company claims that the timber industry in this area is essentially dead forcing the company to seek other uses for the land.

Jim Halstrom, an Ellensburg area resident, said he and his wife were “more than a little incensed” by what had heard. He said Schwandt had offered very little substance.

“If approved, this development will justifiably be challenged in court,” said Halstrom, who works as a lobbyist. “I’ve never seen so much rhetoric and so many buzz words used to justify encroaching on natural resource land.” He accused AFLC of wanting to “exchange” land that had been decimated by inappropriate harvesting.

Kellie Connor, a Teanaway resident, also criticized the plan — and Bowen’s involvement.

“What golden carrot did they dangle in front of you to get you to cross to the dark side?” she said to Bowen, adding that she was “ashamed the county has let it go this far.”

But her words were nothing compared to Ellensburg’s Catherine Clerf who called it “totally unacceptable to stick a town in the middle of forest land of long-term significance.” Although Schwandt earlier had said that it had been only a year or a year and a half that the company had considered development, Clerf remained unconvinced. She said the company had most recently tried to get the land “de-designated” in 2006 and suggested the company had been planning development for some time.

AFLC has leased more than 900 acres of its Teanaway land to Teanaway Solar Reserve, LLC, a company that proposes to build a solar reserve on that land and Schwandt frequently references “green” energy. Some, including Clerf, believe it’s all part of a ruse. She called it AFLC’s “’get out of jail green’ card.”

At one point, she said she was fed up with Kittitas County. She threatened to “go to the feds” with “dirt” she said she has on the county.

She pointedly accused Bowen of selling out.

“I am outraged,” she told him saying she was guessing he was getting a quarter of million dollars to leave his job with Puget Sound Energy and become AFLC’s go-to man for the project.

Clerf spoke so long that Anna Nelson, the county’s lead planner on the subarea planning process told her she needed to conclude her remarks. Several audience members left during her comments.

Clerf’s remarks prompted Lisa Bowen, David Bowen’s wife, to step to the microphone.

In a calm but forceful tone, she told Clerf that her husband’s decision to take the job with AFLC was not based on finances but on his conviction that it was an opportunity to help the county move forward in the right way.

She urged Clerf and the rest of the audience to “keep an open mind and give it some time.”

But it is clear many feel there is no time for waiting.

Among them: Meg Myrhe, who stood up, held up a sheet of paper and invited others who share concerns about the proposed development to join her in fighting it.

“Let’s do it you guys — Team Teanaway,” she said. “Suncadia — shame on them. Teanaway? Shame on us!”

Clearly disappointed in the tone the meeting had taken, Burke paused on her way out. She said she is determined to do what Lisa Bowen had suggested: give it some time and keep an open mind.

“It’s food for thought,” she said. “I wrote it all down and I’m going to go home and talk it over with my son.”