Ellensburg Daily Record: "Teanaway development plan could bring legal challenges"
By Mary Swift, staff writer
CLE ELUM — A Roslyn man urged Teanaway area residents Thursday to arm themselves with lawyers if they hope to stop the American Forest Land Company’s (AFLC) plan to develop timberland the company has in the Teanaway.
Chris Martin’s comments came Thursday night at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange during the third of three public comment meetings that have been held on the future of the Upper Teanaway. AFLC owns the majority of the land in an area being considered as the Teanaway sub area.
The meetings are the early part of a land-use planning process for the area that will last 18 months.
Repeating points he’s made previously, AFLC Vice President Wayne Schwandt said the company believes the timber industry is basically dead in Kittitas County and that the company needs to find other ways to use the land. But that argument doesn’t sway those in the community who say the company rolled the dice on what turned out to be a bad investment and now wants to change the rules for how the land can be used. Others suggest that while the timber industry may have hit on hard times, it’s not gone forever, but if AFLC is allowed to develop its property, the forestland will be.
Martin told an audience of 75 that opponents of a change in the land use need to target Kittitas County with legal challenges.
“I would encourage everyone here who wants to preserve their lifestyle to hire really good lawyers because that’s what it comes down to,” Martin said.
As it turns out, at least one lawyer already is involved although not in any active litigation on the issue.
That’s Karl Forsgaard, staff attorney for the Washington Forest Land Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.
Forsgaard was there on behalf of three organizations, the Kittitas County Conservation Coalition, a group that works to conserve working farms and working forests, Ridge, a local nonprofit group that works for sustainable ecosystems and economies, and Futurewise, a statewide citizens group.
Forsgaard read a letter from the three organizations sent to Kittitas County on Sept. 29 outlining both their vision for the Upper Teanaway and their concerns. Among them: concern that the county is putting the cart before the horse.
“The sub-area plan must evaluate whether the forest lands in the area continue to qualify as forest lands of long-term commercial significance,” Forsgaard said. “However, since Kittitas County does not have (state) Growth Management Act compliant criteria for designating forest lands of long-term commercial significance, this determination should wait until the criteria are adopted and found compliant.”
The sub area plan also must evaluate whether farm and ranch lands in the area qualify as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance, he said. However, since the county does not currently have GMA compliant criteria for designating agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance the county should also wait until it does to make that evaluation, he said.
Among other issues, the three organizations also are concerned with how public facilities and services would be paid for, how access would be provided given rural roads that are not adequate to serve significant new development, impact on fish and wildlife and where water for development would come from.
The latter was a question also posed by others at Thursday’s meeting. Schwandt previously said the company has significant water rights on the land. But audience members suggested those rights were only for irrigation.
Anna Nelson, lead planner for the county on the Teanaway sub-area process, said the county has requested a letter from AFLC specifically spelling out what water rights they have on the land.
Kelli Conner, who has been outspoken in her opposition, said Thursday she does not believe Schwandt’s concern is for the environment.
Conner, a heavyset blond woman, got laughs when she declared that Schwandt was “no more interested” in protecting the environment “than I am a runway model.”
She said, “these guys develop property. That’s what they like to do.” Repeating her assertion that the die is already cast for development despite the fact the process that will determine whether development will be allowed in the area is long from finished, she said, “They’re going to do what they want to, folks” and then outlined a list of demands she has if that happens.
First and foremost, she said, the county needs to wait and not allow anything to happen until results of study of water in the county is finished and the county and the state Department of Ecology have reached some agreement.
Second, she said the county needs to require the company to pay the “highest gosh darn system development charges” so additional expenses for schools, roads, utilities and other costs will be covered.
Beth Marker, a Cle Elum resident, told the audience while she loves the Teanaway area, the reality is that the area’s close proximity to Seattle and the fact it sits just miles off a major interstate means development pressures are not going to go away.
“It’s not going to stay this way forever given where it’s located,” she said. “Maybe the best thing that can come out of this is an honest discussion of the future.”
Nelson reminded the audience the process was still in the early stages of collecting public input in a decision making process not expected to be finished until late next year.
The next meeting, an open house format, is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange. Schwandt said that he will present the company’s vision for its Teanaway property at an Oct. 28 meeting.