Peninsula sites proposed for state trust land exchange

Three sites on the North Olympic Peninsula, including an off-stream reservoir for the Dungeness River, have been proposed in a state trust land exchange.

A 319-acre reservoir located south of Sequim and two expanded conservation areas in Jefferson County were among 10 projects that the state Department of Natural Resources has asked the Legislature to consider funding in the 2017 Trust Land Transfer program.

Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach, who represents 21 timber counties on the state Board of Natural Resources, announced that the $2 million land transfer for a reservoir off River Road was one of the projects that made the list.

The Board of Natural Resources voted 5-0 on Nov. 1 to recommend the transfer of 2,730 acres of low-revenue-producing trust lands for public use.

“Those 10 properties total $30 million,” Peach told his fellow county commissioners Nov. 8.

“The process is that first the DNR screens these properties — these are current timberland properties that are being proposed for a different use — then it goes to the state Legislature. And after the Legislature funds it, it comes back to the Board of Natural Resources.

“And I’m very, very pleased to inform you that the Clallam County River Road project for $2 million out of the $30 million is on that list,” Peach said.

“Great news,” said Commissioner Mark Ozias, whose east-county district includes the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.

In an interview Nov. 11, Ozias said the recommendation to fund the River Road property represents a “significant first step” for the reservoir project.

“I think it has the potential to give the project some immediate momentum,” Ozias said.

Clallam County has been working with a variety of partners — state agencies, irrigators, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, City of Sequim and others — to build an off-stream reservoir for the Dungeness River.

Among other benefits, the estimated $25 million- $30 million project would improve salmon habitat, reduce flood risks and provide needed irrigation water in the late summer and fall, Ozias said.

If the DNR land transfer is funded, the River Road property would become a county park with a recreational component around the reservoir, Ozias said.

The two Jefferson County projects that made the Trust Land Transfer list are proposed expansions of existing conservation areas at Dabob Bay and Devils Lake, DNR project manager Bob Winslow said.

The $6.3 million, 900-acre Dabob Bay project would expand the 2,771-acre Dabob Bay Natural Area to the south.

That project is subject to boundary site approval, which likely would occur before the legislative session begins in January, Winslow said.

The $5.3 million Devils Lake project north of Mount Walker would expand the 80-acre Devils Lake Natural Resources Conservation Area by 370 acres.

“I think they’re worthy,” Winslow said of the three Olympic Peninsula projects.

Other trust land transfers that DNR recommended for funding are in King, Kitsap, Clark and Stevens counties.

“During this upcoming session, we’ll see if one, or none, or all 10 of the projects get funding,” Winslow said.

Trust land transfers help fund public schools and improve returns to trust beneficiaries, Winslow said.

DNR uses the land value of the transferred property to acquire new land that can be managed for greater returns, agency officials said.

“Some state trust lands have important social or ecological values that are desirable to be managed for a special use or feature of importance rather than for economic returns,” according to a DNR program description.

“The Trust Land Transfer program presents an opportunity to retain these special lands in public ownership while maintaining and improving economic returns to trust beneficiaries.”

Trust beneficiaries include timber counties, county road departments, public schools and universities, and junior taxing districts such as public hospitals, parks, libraries and fire departments.

Most of the timber on the River Road property has been harvested, Winslow said.

He added that project would supplement Dungeness River flows, provide new wildlife habit and “seems to be well-supported by the county, the tribe and other parties.”

Ozias said the River Road property would be an “ideal location” for the reservoir.

“It’s good project,” Peach said in a Nov. 3 interview.

“All three county commissioners support it.”

In other reservoir news, Ozias announced Nov. 8 that the Washington Water Trust submitted a nearly $5 million grant to Floodplains By Design for the Dungeness River off-stream reservoir.

“We learned a couple of days ago that that project went relatively well on the Floodplains By Design list that’s being recommended to the Legislature this year,” Ozias said at the commissioners’ meeting.

“So, as with everything else, we’ll see what gets funded and what doesn’t. But that was a feather in the cap for that project, at least for now.”

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450.