Outreach to Junior Taxing Districts Fizzles

Republished from February 2017.

The Port of Port Angeles hosted a meeting of the Trust Land Advisory Committee All-stars at the Port’s conference room on Friday, January 20th.  
The meeting was billed as the “Port of Port Angeles Outreach to Timber Trust Lands Beneficiaries.”  Of the 30 or so in attendance Port O Call could identify only 5 “beneficiaries” in the audience.  Those directly or indirectly connected to Green Crow timber company made up 3 of the 5 presenters.  Green Crow president, Randy Johnson is our newly elected county commissioner.

Others on hand were the usual suspects including Lisa Anderson, Trust Outreach Specialist for DNR, Ann Forest Burns, Vice President of American Forest Resource Council, Trust Advisory Committee Chairman and recently retired Green Crow executive, Harry Bell.  

Also on hand was former county commissioner, Jim McEntire and Forks city attorney/city planner Rod Fleck who, with two seemingly full time jobs at the city of Forks, seems to find a lot of time to carry water for Green Crow timber company on whose corporate board he sits.

Of the 30 or so attendees only five people representing junior taxing districts were on hand.  The rest represented timber interests including the newly elected County Commissioner, Randy Johnson.

Port Commissioner, Connie Beauvais seemed to be the hostess of the meeting as she was the only Port Commissioner in attendance.

Beauvais, in her opening remarks, stated the Trust Lands Advisory Committee sprang up from an outcry from the public during the last Charter Review Committee.  She seemed intent on creating the meme that the citizens were united in wanting to re-convey state trust timber lands back to the county.  

This reporter attended most of  the Charter Review Committee meetings and never witnessed a citizen outcry for such action.  The ring leader of this re-conveyance idea seemed to be Beauvais herself who sat on the Charter Review committee and leveraged her leadership on the re-conveyance issue all the way to office as commissioner at the Port.  Prior to Beauvais’ election as commissioner for a hundred million dollar corporation she was an alpaca breeder and administrator of a small water company near Joyce.

County Commissioner and retired Rayonier timber executive,  Bill Peach was Beauvais’ campaign manager and top campaign contributor when Beauvais ran for Port Commissioner.

The Charter Review Committee, top-heavy with timber interests, did seek to foist this idea on the public and they have had mixed success.  The TLAC voted once to forgo re-conveyance but with the election of Johnson as county commissioner it seems the idea is  back on the front burner.

Most of the timber lands in Clallam County came into the county’s possession back during the depression of the 1930’s when land-owners were unable to keep up their property taxes and the county confiscated their land.

This land is now held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources who manage state trust timberland for a 25% fee.  What this means is whenever trust timber land is sold the DNR gets 25% right off the top and then the so-called Junior Taxing Districts get their shares.  Included in the ranks of junior taxing districts are all those agencies that make life livable in the community including schools, hospitals, highway departments, fire departments, libraries, and parks.

When timber is taken out of the DNR, as was done in the Foothills Land Swap, then these junior taxing districts are deprived of that income.  Moreover, mills are starved of the logs they need to provide jobs for the community.

Longtime readers may remember a few years ago when McEntire was county commissioner he lobbied the state legislature for the Foothills Land Swap on behalf of Green Crow Timber Company, owned by our current county commissioner, Randy Johnson.

This land swap was sold to the community as an opportunity for both the DNR and Green Crow timber company to consolidate their holdings, make it easier to manage, square off the corners of their holdings and blah blah blah.

What it actually accomplished was to provide Green Crow timber company with mature marketable timber and left the county taxpayers with a cut-over stump field.  Timber watchers estimate Green Crow made a profit of at least six million dollars off the land swap.  Junior taxing districts received zero.

To add insult upon injury the timber barons then used this land swap, which took land out of the DNR’s harvest numbers and blamed the so called “arrearage” as the reason for the failure of the mills and the loss of jobs.

Whenever Green Crow harvested the timber from the land swap they shipped it to Asia.  This denied the local mills the raw logs they needed to keep in operation.  Naturally when the mills run out of logs they must close down.  Two mills out on the west end closed shortly after the land swap.  This had a near catastrophic effect on the economy of the town of Forks yet their city attorney, Rod Fleck, Green Crow board member, was cheerleader for the deal yet no one in Forks cried “conflict of interest.”

When it came McEntire’s turn to address the meeting it seemed his job was to mollify the junior taxing districts concerned about their diminishing funds from timber sales.  McEntire, who had a cast on his lower leg, flashed a spreadsheet upon the screen showing timber sales, revenue to districts and so forth.  Instead of a laser-pointer McEntire used his aluminum crutch to point out the numbers on his spreadsheet. 

Strangely, as was pointed out by an audience member, his figures were determined to be off by 25% and he seemed wholly unprepared to deliver any useful information but only came to support the notion of arrearage being the cause of the slack timber harvest and mill closings.  McEntire’s defense, “I put this together late last night.” 

The land swap deal he authored never came up.

Port O Call suggests the re-conveyance of state trust timber land to the county is not good for the community and will further starve the junior taxing districts from funding they need to survive and meet their missions.

With two timber men having voting control of county government and with the stench of the Foothills Land Swap still fresh in our nostrils we should prevail upon the state to continue as trustees of our forests lest they be traded away on future land swaps that serve only to make rich men richer and starve the junior taxing districts of funding. 

Finally, it seems unseemly for the Port of Port Angeles to hire McEntire as a “consultant” to explain anything to anybody.  The voters turned him out of office and it is not up to the Port of Port Angeles to rehabilitate his image.  Plus we must remember it was McEntire who engineered the million dollar,  no-strings-attached gift of taxpayer money to the Port in his last year in office.  Paying him consulting fees now looks a lot like quid pro quo.

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