BELLINGHAM - A vote on the transfer of 8,844 acres of land around Lake Whatcom for use as a county park could come in February, although the County Council left open the possibility of holding the proposal in committee indefinitely.
The council decided on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to hold at least three committee meetings, each addressing one of county Executive Jack Louws' requests for more information, before the final vote is taken on the land transfer, or reconveyance.
Louws said the first meeting should be a discussion of what type of park the land would become. Rather than starting from scratch, the council would work from a preliminary park plan for the land developed three years ago that called for light recreational uses. Louws would like to hear specifics, such as whether overnight camping, bicycling and horseback riding would be allowed.
"My intent here is not to recreate the wheel on everything," Louws said.
The first meeting also would include an alternative proposal, favored by some council members, to keep the land in state ownership and develop a recreation plan with the Department of Natural Resources.
The second meeting would cover management of timber and other natural resources. It would include discussion of a proposal by council member Sam Crawford to exclude 1,755 acres from the transfer, to be kept in commercial timber harvesting.
The third meeting would outline budgets for park construction and operations.
While Louws proposed three committee meetings, the council vote called for "at least three" at the request of council member Barbara Brenner, who said three might not be enough.
The first meeting won't be scheduled until December, after council completes the 2013-14 budget, Louws said.
Transfer of the lakefront properties from state to county ownership has been in the works for five years. Supporters say converting the land to a park would protect the lake's water quality in addition to providing more recreational opportunities.
Opponents say the transfer would take land out of commercial timber production, which would mean fewer jobs and less revenue for school and other taxing districts.