Ludlow timber settlement raises questions

Allison Arthur aarthur@ptleader.com
Posted 1/31/17

Jefferson County is relying on property owners in Port Ludlow to help monitor timber activities of Port Ludlow Associates (PLA) while expecting PLA to follow through with a pledge to inform the …

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Ludlow timber settlement raises questions

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Jefferson County is relying on property owners in Port Ludlow to help monitor timber activities of Port Ludlow Associates (PLA) while expecting PLA to follow through with a pledge to inform the county of any harvest 30 days in advance if the harvest meets certain criteria.

Those expectations emerged during a two-hour public presentation Jan. 25 given by Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley, Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler and PLA President Diana Smeland on a recent settlement agreement between the county and PLA over timber harvesting. In lieu of a lawsuit over PLA’s commercial clearcuts in 2015, the county and PLA reached an agreement on Dec. 19. A 14-page document outlines the details.

Enforcement of that agreement was raised as an issue at the meeting attended by 50 at The Bay Club.

It was resident Dave McDermid, one of three community leaders who have raises questions about PLA’s activities in the past two years, who first questioned how the county planned to monitor the freshly minted agreement between the county and PLA.

“Our presumption in entering this agreement is that all parties are participating in good faith,” replied Morley of expecting advance notice from PLA, as is written in the agreement. “In the event that doesn’t happen, this does seem to be an engaged community,” Morley said.

“We look to you as partners,” Morley told an audience of about 50. “I’d anticipate we’d be hearing from you.”

Pressed for whom, specifically, in Jefferson County people should call if they had questions about timber harvesting, Morley said people could call himself, Commissioner Kler and the county’s Department of Community Development (DCD).

With Bill Dean, Port Ludlow Village Council president, serving as host of the meeting, Morley went through sections of the settlement agreement. Morley explained what could and could not be done in lands designated as open space reserve and on undeveloped lands owned by PLA that might be open to harvesting to clear the way for housing, golf course expansion and other purposes.

Cutting trees to make way for houses has never been questioned; cutting trees in the reserve was questioned. Morley assured the audience that all 368 acres designated as reserve land are protected from harvesting.

END OF AGREEMENT

There also was discussion about a development agreement between the county and PLA that is set to expire in 2025. When that agreement expires, so does the settlement agreement.

“When it does expire, at that point, PLA still will be a master planned resort,” Morley said.

But the law of Port Ludlow’s resort properties would be the county’s land-use laws, not the development agreement written two decades ago.

“So yes, that raises questions,” acknowledged Morley.

It is an unanswered question of what happens with timber management at that point and all the rules that the county was able to get PLA to agree to in the settlement.

MEETING BEFORE SIGNING

While previous meetings at The Bay Club involving timber issues have attracted crowds of 100 or more, along with pledges to boycott PLA’s businesses, only one person, Allan Kiesler, voiced disappointment in the agreement. PLA clear-cut property next to Kiesler in 2015. Kiesler said MPR stood for “missing professional representation.”

Kiesler said he wouldn’t be voting for Kler in the next election and he said county officials should have had a public meeting before signing the agreement.

And he went one step further, suggesting it was time Port Ludlow consider forming its own city. He said his research showed that Port Ludlow would be the 144th-largest municipality in Washington if it incorporated.

“We didn’t have a voice” in the agreement, Kiesler said. “Why not give us a chance to commit before you signed?”

Kler responded that it is never easy to hear how she had disappointed her constituents.

“We know it was not a perfect document,” Kler acknowledged. She that she’s learned a lot about the value of trees to Jefferson County in the past two years because of the Port Ludlow issues. She said they were valued for the aesthetics they provide, the money they bring in, and the impact they have on the environment and climate change.

Morley weighed in on Kiesler’s suggestion that a city government would behave differently than a county government.

“Even if there had been a city government representing you, it likely would have handled this the same way,” Morley said of the legal dispute between the government and a landowner over wording in a document the two had agreed to decades ago.

“Those kinds of settlement disputes don’t go through a public process,” Morley said.

Kiesler shot back that it took the county months to stop PLA from harvesting the timber in 2015.

One resident, who did not give his name, said he appreciated what the county had achieved and the fact that they were able to keep it from going to full-out litigation.

Kler asked those attending to move ahead and have trust that both sides were operating in good faith.

Dean ended the meeting by saying the agreement is a framework for future discussions.

“It doesn’t have all the answers,” Dean said, suggesting the community look for ways to work together.

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