County committee tours possible logging site on Squak Mountain
April 30, 2013
By Peter Clark
Expiration of the county’s park levy seems to spell the greatest threat to preventing logging on Squak Mountain.
Early April 27, the King County Conservation Futures Citizens Committee took a trip up to the parcel that could face clear-cutting by landowner Erikson Logging Inc. through an application process begun in January.
The group has a mandate to fund projects with dollars raised from the Conservation Futures Tax that protects open King County green space or saves it from development. The county’s Parks Department and a local advocacy group, Save Squak, hope to convince the county to purchase the 220 acres. Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition.
“King County has an incredibly high track record for acquiring green space,” committee Chairwoman Terry Lavender said. “The only thing is that we have to spread jurisdiction and geographical equity over time.”
With each project application, she said the committee “looks at whether it’s part of a regional plan. Does it have a compelling trailhead? Is it a quality habitat? Is it part of the wildlife network?”
The competition enters when she explained that there were 42 projects forwarded to the committee this year, totaling $16,378,650 in Conservation Futures Tax requests. Lavender said the committee only has $8.8 million at its disposal, which complicates the decision process.
While King County Parks Department Program Manager Ingrid Lundin, who filed the application, only seeks $500,000 in the property tax derived funds, it also asks for $1.5 million in parks levy dollars. Lavender said that was a hurdle for the moment, because that request is for 2014 dollars and the current parks levy expires this year. She said that the council supports another levy and will discuss it soon, but that it is still a consideration for the committee.
Accompanied by Save Squak co-founder Dave Kappler and County Councilman Reagan Dunn, the group heard a brief presentation from Lundin about the effects that a timber harvest would have on the area.
“Basically, everything here would be stripped,” she said, sweeping her arms around the lush expanse. She said officials are working with the Trust for Public Land and with the owner to secure a timeline and price for possible purchase of the land. Though she said the landowner is less willing to wait, the $2 million could be possibly phased out even longer than the two years requested in the application.
Kappler then led a short trail tour, pointing out the 50- to 100-year-old tree stands that towered over the small group. Surrounded by mossy Douglas firs and old growth trees, the committee asked questions about the area’s habitat and history as they hiked to the trail end.
Deftly making his way along the rooted, barely perceptible path, committee member Ken Konigsmark, who is also on the board of directors for the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, smiled as he talked about the green parcel of land that was formerly used by the Issaquah camping club, and lauded the environment offered by the region. Still, he recognized that while he had a local relationship he needed to carry a certain amount of impartiality.
“I’ve been familiar with this land for years now,” he said, making his way up to the vista offered along the hillside, which gave a stunning view of Renton, Lake Washington and the Olympics. “I will advocate for it but I have to be fair.”
Lundin told the committee that the county Parks Department hopes to build a new trailhead on the land that would wind down the scenic land to Squak Mountain State Park a mile away.
Lavender spoke with optimism about the merits that saving the Squak Mountain parcel would have for the county.
“I don’t think there’s any question that this program meets the basic requirements,” she said. “The biggest dependent factor on this project is the renewal of the parks level for another six years.”
Once the committee has reviewed all of the locations and applications, it will formulate recommendations for the county executive, whom Lavender said usually accepts those in full. Then, it will enter the executive’s budget and be voted on by the council in November.
Lavender said that movements like Save Squak spoke well in favor of how the county would view the applications.
“Groups like that have a huge impact,” she said. “I know that it is part of our considerations.”
Lundin was also optimistic about the county’s move. She said that it was actually Erikson Logging who approached the county about whether they would be interested in buying the land.
“The landowner was considering his options for the property and we’ve been working with him,” she said. “We’re hopeful.”