City offers no comment as county moves to preserve 43,000 acres, but mayor offers letter of support

NOTE: Enumclaw mayor Liz Reynolds provided a written statement regarding the county's plans. The full text of her letter to County Executive Dow Constantine follows this article.

Enumclaw will formally sit silent as King County moves ahead with plans to prohibit commercial development on 43,000 acres of timbered land east of town.

The issue came to light March 21 when King County Executive Dow Constantine announced he had reached an agreement with Hancock Timber Resource Group. The plan calls for the county to pay Hancock $11.1 million to purchase “development rights” on the White River Forest, a swath of land running along state Route 410 and abutting the White River.

Constantine and supporters of the county plan say the goal is to protect the forestland from future development. Critics would argue the move has the potential to limit economic enterprise.

Under terms of the agreement, Hancock would retain ownership of the land and continue to use it as a working forest. The public would retain access to the land for recreation purposes, for a fee set by Hancock.

The issue arose during the most recent meeting of the Enumclaw City Council, when Councilman Darrel Dickson questioned the logic of shutting off potential development so close to the city’s eastern border.

City Administrator Mike Thomas doesn’t share Dickson’s concern. There is plenty of room within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary, he said, questioning the notion that limitations on property to the east would have a negative impact.

As the issue works its way through county channels, Thomas said, the city will not be a participant. The discussion, he added, is solely between King County and Hancock.

The proposal is to be discussed today, Tuesday, during a meeting of the County Council’s Budget Committee. According to a spokesman for the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, two options remain: if the proposal passed through the Budget Committee, it will be addressed by the full council April 15; if the committee continues discussion to its April 16 meeting, it would then go to full council on April 29.

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Mayor's letter

Dear Executive Constantine:

I am writing to say thank you for all of the hard work you expended in working with King County Councilmembers Larry Phillips and Reagan Dunn, and others to secure a permanent easement over 43,000 acres of the White River Forest east of the City of Enumclaw. The preservation of the White River Forest has a significant positive impact on the City as well as surrounding communities. I am pleased that the White River Forest agreement preserves hundreds of local forestry jobs while at the same time allowing for the continuation of recreational activities such ashorseback riding and hiking that our citizens have engaged in for years on this property.

Preservation of the White River Forest is an enhancement to the state and federally recognized Chinook Scenic Byway (SR 410) that runs from Enumclaw to Naches. Those traveling the Byway for recreation or other purposes will now be able to do so without the impingement of urban sprawl and development seen elsewhere in Puget Sound.

As the proposed legislation works its way through the County’s legislative process, I urge you to, if possible, revisit the issue of charging an access fee. Historically, a fee has not been charged to gain access to the property.It is through your efforts and vision that the White River Forest agreement is now on the doorstep of becoming a reality and a historic achievement in the preservation of rural King County.

My sincere gratitude and best wishes,

Mayor Liz Reynolds

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