State lands chief, DNR sued over timber harvest

Herald staff

OLYMPIA — A lawsuit against Washington Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher and the Department of Natural Resources claims they are shortchanging schools of money from state-harvested lands.

The suit was filed Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court by the Fleck family of Forks and the Mary M. Knight School District in Mason and Grays Harbor counties.

Belcher, who is retiring in January after eight years in office, and the department she oversees are recalculating the state’s "sustainable yield," or how much timber should be harvested. The revenue from sale of trust timber goes to school construction and other programs.

The lawsuit accuses Belcher of intentionally lowering the amount of timber harvested, which the critics say would deprive schools of millions of dollars.

Doug Sutherland will replace Belcher in January. He was not available for comment.

  • Driver pleads guilty in crash death: He drank, took cocaine, drove his borrowed car too fast, caused a fatal accident on I-5 and ran away, jumping into Lake Union in a futile effort to elude police. On Wednesday, though, a contrite and remorseful Ruben Comacho Contreras, 27, pleaded guilty in King County Superior Court to vehicular homicide and hit-and-run driving. "I am very sorry, I am very remorseful," Contreras, 27, said in a statement read by Judge pro tem Ken Comstock. "I ask the forgiveness of the victim’s family." Comstock set sentencing for Jan. 26. The case arose from a crash on Nov. 5 in which a 1998 Lexus driven by Contreras rear-ended a 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jonathan Davern, 23, who had recently gotten married and moved to the city from Vancouver, Wash. Davern’s car burst into flames, and witnesses said he never had a chance to get out. Contreras later admitted he had been drinking and was at a strip club with some friends before the crash. According to the court record, traces of cocaine and marijuana also were found in his blood.

  • Pair die in arson: Police were investigating the deaths of a man and woman found Thursday in a burning apartment. Firefighters found the bodies in a smoke-filled bedroom at about 2 a.m. They were taken to Grays Harbor Community Hospital, where they were pronounced dead. The name of the 25-year-old woman was not released, and the man was not identified. Autopsies were planned for todayf. The fire was determined to be arson, officials said.

  • Honoring Lewis and Clark: Maya Lin, who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, has accepted a commission for four projects to mark the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition through Washington state. "I guarantee, whatever she produces will be controversial; it will make you think," Mayor Royce Pollard said Wednesday. Lin is best known for "The Wall," dedicated in 1984 in Washington, D.C. It bears the names of the nation’s dead and missing military personnel in the Vietnam War. No sites have been chosen, but her Lewis and Clark projects will be near the confluences of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, the Snake and Columbia rivers, and the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and near the end of the trail at the mouth of the Columbia. The Columbia-Willamette memorial will be in Vancouver, said Edward Lynch, president of the city’s National Historic Reserve Trust board. No price has been set, nor has a contract been signed. Money is to be raised privately. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a trek to the Pacific Northwest and back between 1803 and 1806 at the request of President Thomas Jefferson.
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