House advances bill to preserve Snoqualmie forest


by Jon Savelle
King County Journal Reporter

SNOQUALMIE, WA-- Efforts to preserve the Weyerhaeuser Co.'s sprawling Snoqualmie Tree Farm got a boost Thursday when the legislation needed for its purchase by the nonprofit Evergreen Forest Trust passed out of committee in Congress.

Jen Burrita, an aide to Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of Bellevue, said the measure was attached as an amendment to an armed services tax bill by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

``We feel certain it will pass,'' Burrita said. ``It will get to the president's desk.''

The bill would allow the trust to finance the $185 million deal with a new mechanism called community forestry bonds.

Tax-exempt bonds

They are tax-exempt bonds that would be repaid with revenue from ongoing commercial logging on the tree farm, which extends from Mount Si north to Mount Index and from Carnation east to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

This unique financing arrangement would keep the 100,000-acre property as commercial forest, while protecting its streams, wetlands and critical wildlife habitat.

The tree farm has long been popular with hikers, hunters and recreationists, and its protection has been a top priority for local conservation groups.

Gene Duvernoy, a member of the trust and president of the Cascade Land Conservancy, said the trust was ``extraordinarily enthusiastic'' about the bill's passage out of committee.

``We are very, very appreciative of Congresswoman Dunn's leadership and hard work,'' he said.

`We are delighted'

Duvernoy is optimistic that the measure will pass the House and that a similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, will pass the Senate. That happened last year, but the Congress ended before a combined measure could be crafted and sent to President Bush.

All parties continue to work with Weyerhaeuser, which has put the property up for sale.

``We are delighted that Congresswoman Dunn was able to get this before the Ways and Means Committee,'' said Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal. ``It seems like they are making good progress this year and that's great.''

He added, however, that the company continues discussions with other interested buyers, and that if one of them comes forward with a suitable offer the property will be sold.

Jon Savelle can be reached at jon.savelle or 425-453-4231.



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