Next steps for Yakima plan

Last week’s federal government shutdown, the antithesis of working together, has overshadowed a massive transaction emblematic of cooperation.

On Sept. 30, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, and Forterra, a non-profit land trust, marked the official purchase of 50,272 acres in the Teanaway River Valley north of Cle Elum, an area critical to the health of the Yakima Basin watershed. It was the largest single land purchase in Washington in 45 years ($99 million from the state), and a first-ever experiment with an innovative model, a community forest.

“This incredible landscape will be managed into perpetuity for the benefit of fish and wildlife and the citizens of the state of Washington, and is now secure as a source of both economic and recreational vitality.” WDFW Director Phil Anderson said.

Forest management will center on a working-landscape model to provide timber jobs while preserving the Teanaway’s recreational and conservation values (read: no suburban sprawl.)

“The Teanaway has been a holy grail for the conservation community for a long, long time,” said Forterra President Gene Duvernoy.

That holy grail was attainable thanks to a series of old-school horse trades. And here transparency and strict scrutiny are essential. The Teanaway is part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, a $5 billion project to bolster water supplies for irrigation and people in Eastern Washington that also fulfills an enviro wish list. The meta question is whether group interests add up to the broader public interest, and whether Washington taxpayers are properly served.

Two legislators, Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, and Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, chairman of the Finance Committee, are asking the hard questions. Earlier in 2013, they inserted language in a senate substitute bill to ensure that half of the project’s total costs are funded through private, federal and non-state sources.

In a Sept. 30 letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, Carlyle writes, “Given the current volatility of commitments from the federal government regarding funding of public infrastructure projects, it is particularly important to develop a robust, flexible, usage-based funding plan that protects state taxpayers.”

There’s the big catch — the other Washington (see “shutdown,” above.)

A source in the Inslee administration, a booster of the project, said the governor will engage with the state treasurer, lawmakers and interest groups to make certain it’s done right. Let’s hope so, because the Yakima plan will have giant implications for generations to come.

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