Council OKs making request for Wallace Falls land transfer

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council gave the go-ahead Monday to a land transfer to preserve trails and scenery near Wallace Falls State Park, but some questions remain about who will end up paying for it.

A deal has been under discussion for about a decade. The current proposal includes 25 acres of forest north of Gold Bar that the state Department of Natural Resources manages for the county. Profits from logging operations there are earmarked for the Sultan School District, Sno-Isle Libraries, Valley General Hospital and Fire District 26.

By a 5-0 vote, the council authorized Executive Dave Somers to ask the state to transfer control of the land back to the county through a process known as reconveyance. That would remove 25 acres from 187-acre harvest known as the Singletary sale, but also take some money away from local governments.

“We need to get this going so we still get 85 percent of the money,” said County Councilman Sam Low, who spearheaded an earlier proposal that was rejected by a state board. “Because if we don’t, they get zero.”

The whole parcel had been set to go to auction in February with a minimum bid of $1.8 million. A majority of the County Council voted Feb. 22 to ask the state to postpone the sale and remove the 25 acres. Low voted “no” out of concern for lost revenue to local governments. The council’s other Republican, Nate Nehring, also voted in opposition, saying he wanted to support timber jobs.

The remainder of the land is set for auction in May. No exact date has been set.

The move could cost the county up to $200,000 in fees and survey costs. County parks director Tom Teigen said “we would be very surprised” if the actual amount approaches that total.

A harvest is unlikely to happen before 2018. That should give the county time to figure out how to make up for any lost revenues for other local governments, Teigen said. The county has options to compensate any money lost from the Sultan School District’s construction budget, but lacks that flexibility for other taxing districts.

“We should be able to make the school district whole,” Low said. “But there doesn’t appear to be any mechanism to make the other taxing districts whole, yet.”

Low said that would be his priority.

Councilman Terry Ryan wanted to be cautious about making any financial promises before knowing how they will affect county finances.

“It’s no secret that the budget situation here is precarious,” Ryan said.

Logging the Singletary tract would require building roads and bridges. That infrastructure would provide access for future logging of another 1,500 acres of trust land near Wallace Falls.

The transferred acreage should help connect the park to a trailhead that the county already owns and provide better trail loops.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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