Ellensburg Daily Record: "AFLC seeks longer planning delay"
The owner of the single largest tract of forest land in the Upper Teanaway basin wants a longer time out.
American Forest Land Co. is calling for a further delay in relaunching the public land-use planning process for all Teanaway lands, an effort that was halted in early November.
Officials of the American Forest Land Co., the firm that owns about 46,434 acres out of a total planning area of 56,700 acres north of Cle Elum, said the company needs at least 30 to 60 more days to complete talks with national and statewide nonprofit conservation groups on options for the use of the company's wooded lands.
Some of the organizations include the Cascade Land Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands and the Nature Conservancy, according to David Bowen, president of American Forest Land Co. (AFLC).
County planning process
The community planning process - called subarea planning - was stopped by county commissioners Nov. 3 to allow an investigation into missing public documents related to prior AFLC plans for the property. The documents were returned, and no charges were filed.
County commissioners, after the conclusion of the investigation in late May, directed county staff to discuss with AFLC restarting the planning work that began in 2009.
Commissioners have acknowledged that the county can't continue the community effort without continued funding from AFLC.
Commissioners and AFLC finalized a memorandum of agreement in early September outlining how the planning would progress with AFLC paying for county expenses.
Before the planning process was halted, AFLC indicated it had preliminary plans to develop a community on part of its holdings.
Proponents of the Teanaway Solar Reserve project, a 400,000-panel photovoltaic generator of electricity, plans to construct the solar farm on land leased from AFLC four miles northeast of Cle Elum.
County government about two years ago identified the Upper Teanaway as an area needing public scrutiny in a community process to plan for the future use of its mostly forested lands.
While the planning effort was on hold, Bowen said AFLC was busy with "long-term discussions with our conservation partners and (we) have made substantial progress." Bowen said was approached with "an opportunity with projects of the (U.S.) Bureau of Reclamation, (the state Department of) Ecology and other watershed stakeholders."
"We believe the Teanaway Valley is one of Kittitas County's most important assets, and our significant role in its future is not something we take lightly," Bowen said in a prepared statement.
In light of the time, energy and resources already invested in exploring alternatives to the the county planning process and the progress made, Bowen said "we owe it to our partners to continue our due diligence and cooperative efforts to a point that will provide a reasonable conclusion of feasibility."
"We anticipate having better information to make this determination in the next 30-60 days," Bowen added.
Bowen, in earlier comments, said when feasibility is determined on the land-use options being studied for the company's lands, and conclusions are reached, AFLC will share this information with county officials.
He declined to comment on what possible land-use options are being discussed with the conservation groups.
Bowen said if certain conclusions are reached with the groups on land use, it's possible the land-use planning process might not be necessary in light of protections the options might create.
It's also possible, he said, that the county might reconsider going forward with the planning effort in light of possible agreements between AFLC and the conservation groups.
Funding for planning
American Forest Land Co. officials on Sept. 20 met with county Public Works Director and Interim Community Development Services Director Kirk Holmes and the county's consultant land-use planner, Anna Nelson.
Nelson on Thursday said AFLC officials indicated the company's talks with conservation groups has included the option of creating conservation easements on portions of AFLC lands.
Because of the AFLC's request to hold off on restarting the county land-use planning process, Nelson said the company also wants to hold off, at this time, on further funding the county's expenses in carrying out the community planning effort.
Currently the county doesn't have enough money left from past AFLC funding to restart a communitywide public planning process, Nelson said.