Pullman, Wash., University May Partner with Weyerhaeuser, Turn Trees into Cash
Nov. 4Thursday, November 4th, 2004 12:01 AM (PST) The Weyerhaeuser Co. might log Washington State University's 63-year-old experimental forest in Bonney Lake, and they would share millions of dollars in proceeds, the timber company and the school announced Wednesday.
Development of the nearly 150-acre forest would mean profits for Weyerhaeuser, a large monetary donation for WSU and less open space and woods in the fast-growing suburban community.
There had been speculation about the land transaction for more than a year, and Wednesday's announcement wasn't a surprise for city officials and park advocates in Bonney Lake. But some still expressed disappointment, especially after voters turned down $10 million in bond measures Tuesday that would have built parks and a recreation center in the city.
"We just continue to see the environment disregarded in the growth of the Bonney Lake area," said Marian Betzer, a member of a group that pushed for the parks bonds.
The WSU forest grows along the city's main drag, Highway 410, where commercial developments rapidly are replacing open space and trees.
Exactly what kind of development will emerge and how much money it will generate is not known.
According to e-mail correspondence between Weyerhaeuser and WSU officials that a resident sent to The News Tribune, the timber company had been working on a plan for 20 acres of park land, 23 acres of commercial space and 106 acres for some other development.
Patricia Akiyama, a Weyerhaeuser spokeswoman, said Wednesday that details of the development plan haven't been finalized.
A letter from Weyerhaeuser to WSU also mentioned Quadrant Corp. as a possible developer. But Bill Boucher, a Quadrant spokesman, said his company is not part of the agreement announced Wednesday.
Quadrant, a development arm of Weyerhaeuser, built Northwest Landing, a planned community on 3,000 acres in DuPont.
Bonney Lake Mayor Bob Young said he wasn't surprised by the news.
"Well, that 147 acres probably is some of the most valuable lands WSU owns," Young said. "If this property is ever sold, I want the city to get a park out of it. We really don't have any say in what they are going to do with it." The Bonney Lake land transaction is the latest in a series of property sales WSU is conducting to generate more revenue.
Last year, the school announced it would sell some of its farmland in Fife and Puyallup, which upset many conservationists. WSU recently closed a deal to sell a parcel in Fife and is finalizing the transaction of a parcel nearby.
Those sales of about 60 acres will bring in about $11 million, said Mel Taylor, director of special projects and external relations for WSU's business affairs office.
The school also plans to put part of the Puyallup research center property, about 18 acres, on the market soon. The center opened in 1894 as the first agriculture experiment station in Western Washington.
So far, WSU has generated about $16 million from land sales, including the pending sale in Fife, Taylor said.
He said WSU will receive millions from the Bonney Lake transaction.
For almost two years, the university has been reviewing about 11,500 acres it owns across the state, including about 800 acres in Pierce County. WSU has shifted most of its commercial agricultural research to Skagit County.
"We are pleased that we have been able to negotiate this contract with Weyerhaeuser," said Greg Royer, WSU vice president for business affairs, in a press release. "It will be a very beneficial step in advancing the long-term interests of the university."
Weyerhaeuser originally donated the Bonney Lake land to the university in 1941 for experimental and demonstration purposes, including forestry education and 4-H club activities such as a ropes challenge course.
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Weyerhaeuser will build a ropes course in King County and will pay the relocation costs.
The university also plans to build a ropes course on WSU-owned property in Thurston County.
"This arrangement will allow us to improve our educational program and facilities, continue to make them accessible to the youth and communities that we serve, and make the best use of our resources," said Linda Fox, interim dean and director of WSU Extension, in a news release.
If the Bonney Lake transaction is approved by WSU's Board of Regents, the school will continue occupying the land until the 4-H facilities are relocated and the property is sold.
At least one Bonney Lake official is not ready to give up the fight to preserve the woods. Councilman Phil DeLeo has quickly drafted an ordinance that would require council approval on any zoning change on the forest.
The WSU land is now zoned to allow only public facilities.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the ordinance at a special meeting today at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 19306 Bonney Lake Blvd.
To see more of The News Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.TheNewsTribune.com.© 2004, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.