I am a businessman - a job creator. I started a business from scratch and grew it to 360 employees. This taught me how to recognize a great investment. I believe that the Lake Whatcom reconveyance is the best value investment opportunity this community will see for a long time. I along with more than 100 other Whatcom County business owners have signed a letter to the Whatcom County Council supporting the reconveyance because it makes business sense.
In the near future the Whatcom County Council will decide on the reconveyance or transfer of 8,700 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed from the State Department of Natural Resources to Whatcom County. The state manages the land for timber production. Under local control, the land would be managed to provide recreational opportunities and protect drinking water.
This is a great deal because:
1. Acquisition costs. The cost to Whatcom County of acquiring the 8,700 acres is about $300,000 for surveys, appraisals and DNR staff time. This money has already been spent. It comes to less than $35 per acre, a tiny fraction of what it will cost in the future to buy parkland for our growing population.
2. Lost revenue. Opponents to reconveyance have vastly overestimated the local loss of timber revenue from reconveyance. To arrive at an accurate figure, a number of factors must be considered, factors overlooked by opponents. For instance, according to DNR, timber revenues will decline sharply in the coming years; 62 percent of the revenue generated by timber harvests in the area to be reconveyed goes to the state, not to local entities; lease payments on two communication towers will be transferred to Whatcom County by the reconveyance; the Mount Baker School District will be compensated if the reconveyance is approved.
According to my calculations, the local loss from timber revenues will be no more than $65,000 per annum. Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism figures show that our local visitor industry supports 5,870 jobs, generates $7.4 million in local taxes and is growing fast. With just a 1 percent increase in annual visitor taxes, we will recover the $65,000.
3. Lost jobs. The state lands in the watershed have been reconfigured so that the best lands for timber management will stay with DNR and the best lands for parks and recreation will be reconveyed to Whatcom County. Of the 8,700 acres to be reconveyed, this leaves only about 2,200 acres suitable for timber harvesting. Thus, given 40-year timber rotations and the fact that some of this land has been recently harvested, few jobs in the woods will be lost.
Because a relatively small number of logs would be coming off the land to be reconveyed and a great majority of those logs would be going to modern, efficient mills in Skagit and Snohomish counties, rather than the sole remaining older mill in Whatcom County, few, if any, wood processing jobs would be lost. There are 332,127 acres in Whatcom County zoned for commercial forestry; the loss of 2,200 acres will make little difference.
4. Local control. Reconveyance will shift control of 8,700 watershed acres from state to local control. Decisions about how to use the land, how to develop and manage recreational opportunities, and how to best protect water quality will be in the hands of those most directly affected by those decisions. The County Council will even be able to allow some logging by DNR after reconveyance (RCW 79.22.310).
5. Economic benefits. Every successful community, like every successful business, must look to the future when making important decisions. Timber has played a diminishing role in our economy and that role will continue to decline. Whatcom County has amazing natural amenities. There are few places in the world you can ski, mountain bike, hike, horse ride, kayak, kite surf, sail, scuba, swim, fish, crab, hunt, pick mushrooms, camp and climb in a single county. Our future economic prosperity depends on our making wise decisions to protect and utilize these natural amenities. They attracted me, and they will attract other new businesses, skilled workers and visitors to our community.
Let's build on our strengths. I doubt we will ever find a better opportunity to invest in our community than the reconveyance.
Rud Browne, founder of Ryzex Group, was recognized as the Whatcom County Business person of the year in 2004 and was a winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2007. He lives in Whatcom County and has served on the Bellingham Watershed Advisory Board and Public Development Authority.