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King County proposes to buy forest on Squak Mountain

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times
King County, with The Trust for Public Land as an intermediary, has tentatively agreed to buy 216 acres next to the Cougar Mountain/Squak Mountain Corridor.

King County, with the help of an intermediary, has tentatively agreed to buy an Issaquah-area forest that otherwise would be logged and possibly developed into mountainside estates.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) would buy 216 acres on the side of Squak Mountain from Erickson Logging, and then resell it to the county.

Erickson and TPL must agree on a price next month after completion of an independent appraisal.

A coalition of environmentalists and residents of May Valley has urged King County to buy the land in order to expand an existing wildlife and recreation corridor and to prevent increased flooding along May Creek.

The property, which includes a private campground and a section of older forest, is adjacent to the Cougar Mountain/Squak Mountain Corridor, which connects state and county parkland.

King County would buy the property in phases, starting next February, subject to approval by the Metropolitan King County Council. Two council members, Reagan Dunn and Larry Phillips, praised the deal negotiated with Erickson by TPL and County Executive Dow Constantine.

Constantine said in a phone interview the logging company “will be made whole,” TPL will recoup its investment, “and the people of King County will have added another gem to our system of parks and open space that will serve a growing population forever.”

Erickson received a state forest practices permit last week to log most of the land, but has agreed to postpone logging while a deal is finalized.

Mike Deller, TPL’s Washington state director, said conversations with county officials and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust identified the land as a high priority for public ownership.

“Since the county funding was not in place for this yet, we stepped in to be the buyer in the interim — which is something we do quite often across the country,” Deller said.

Funding for the county purchase is expected to come from the conservation futures tax levy and the countywide parks levy, which goes before voters for renewal in the August primary election.

The deal comes less than two months after Constantine announced another agreement — also subject to County Council approval — to buy development rights on Hancock Timber’s 43,000-acre White River Forest for $11.1 million.

Hancock will continue to log that property east of Enumclaw, while the agreement with TPL would preclude logging on the side of Squak Mountain, which includes headwaters of May Creek and is closer to major population centers.

“While we encourage a healthy, sustainable logging industry around the county, some areas are better than others,” Constantine said.

David Kappler, who as president of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club has promoted county purchase of the Erickson property, said “nobody’s planning a party or breaking out any Champagne” until the deal is finalized.

“It looks very promising. There’s still the little matter of price, but at least there’s an agreement and it’s exciting that The Trust for Public Land is involved,” Kappler said.

Kappler said Erickson paid a little more than $2 million for the land, which was previously acquired by a bank for more than $4 million.

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