House OKs bond sale for trust to buy land

By The Associated press
Seattle Times


WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. House yesterday approved a measure that would allow the nonprofit Evergreen Forest Trust to issue tax-exempt bonds to buy conservation land in Washington state.

The forest trust had planned to issue bonds to buy the Snoqualmie Tree Farm from Weyerhaeuser, setting aside some of the land for open space and allowing timber harvesting on the rest.

But a one-year time line to complete the deal expired in January, and Weyerhaeuser announced last week it would sell the land to Boston-based Hancock Timber Resource Group.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., are urging the company to work with the forest trust.

"This is an innovative concept that can be a model for other communities around the nation and potentially for a deal with Hancock," Dunn said yesterday.

The Evergreen Forest Trust had planned to set aside 80 percent of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm land for timber harvesting and conserve the remainder as permanent open space. Timber proceeds would be used to pay off the tax-exempt bonds.

If the legislation passes in the Senate, it would give conservation groups "an incredibly important financing tool" for future deals, said Gene Duvernoy, president of the Seattle-based Cascade Land Conservancy and a forest-trust board member.

"I think Hancock ... is a very progressive company, and I will be interested in talking about conservation options on their property," Duvernoy said.

Murray said she encouraged Hancock officials last week to work toward the deal the forest trust envisioned.

"It is the right thing to do for our timber workers, for the environment and for the quality of life we treasure in Washington state," Murray said, noting that she has led passage of similar legislation in years past, only to have the House reject it.

"Hancock Timber Resource Group has a long history of working with conservation groups to protect sensitive lands," Hancock president Dan Christenson said in a recent statement. "We genuinely look forward to exploring opportunities to protect the sensitive areas of the Snoqualmie Forest as we have done in the past with many other local communities and conservation groups."


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