News

WSU regents seal forest deal

By Teresa Herriman

The Courier-Herald

The board of regents for Washington State University has unanimously approved a proposal to return the Bonney Lake Demonstration Forest to Weyerhaeuser Company. The regents voted on the plan at the regularly scheduled meeting Friday in Pullman.

WSU currently conducts youth education programs, including the 4-H Challenge Course, at the 147-acre forest. Weyerhaeuser deeded the property to the university in 1942 with the stipulation the forest would be used as a living classroom for youth-oriented education programs. Should WSU no longer wish to continue the programs, the forest is to revert back to Weyerhaeuser.

In return for the land, WSU will receive a 104-acre parcel located in King County to be used to construct a new ropes course. Weyerhaeuser also agreed to donate half the proceeds of the sale of the land - no less than $24 million according to documents - to the university.

James Tinney, director of the WSU News Bureau, said the regents discussed the 4-H Challenge Course when considering the proposal. They eventually decided the plan would be a positive move for the program. Weyerhaeuser's agreement to build a new course, combined with the promise of a second course in Thurston County, would mean a net gain for the program, Tinney said.

In the end, the board agreed to the proposal as it was put before them.

Tinney confirmed the regents had received letters and e-mails sent from Bonney Lake citizens asking the university to reconsider the plan. He was unsure how many letters or e-mails were received or reviewed.

He noted the university will continue to support the Challenge Program in Bonney Lake until the new course is completed.

"For the time being, for us anyway, it's status quo," he said.

According to Weyerhaeuser spokesperson Frank Mendizabal, Weyerhaeuser doesn't have any definitive plans for the property.

"Under the original agreement, it reverts back to us," he said.

"Beyond that is completely speculative."

However, in a letter to WSU Vice President of Business Affairs Greg Royer from Weyerhaeuser Vice President of Land Acquisitions and Divestitures Ted Cozine, dated Sept. 8, 2004, Weyerhaeuser indicated it intends to convert the forest to commercial, residential and park space through its development arm, Quadrant Real Estate. The correspondence further states Weyerhaeuser intends to sell the property, agreeing to donate half the net proceeds of the sale to WSU.

The letter further said the agreement is contingent on approval of changes to the Bonney Lake comprehensive plan and zoning requirements.

The letter became public as part of nearly 1,500 documents provided by WSU to Illana Guttmann, a member of the Friends of WSU/4-H Challenge Course. Guttmann forced WSU to relinquish the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mendizabal said Weyerhaeuser has also received e-mails regarding the forest.

"We certainly understand the sensitivity," he said. "Development is a tricky subject for a lot of folks."

Brian Brandt, WSU Challenge Program and Demonstration Forest Program director, said he realizes this train is moving forward.

"That doesn't change our desire as programmers to serve our youth and volunteers," he said.

Brandt has expressed concerns regarding the viability of the land offered by Weyerhaeuser in exchange for the Bonney Lake property. He fears fewer schools and businesses would be able to take the extra time required to travel to the Black Diamond area where the new course would be located.

However, Brandt remains positive a reasonable solution can still be found.

"With the proper support, we can greatly expand that service across the Puget Sound."

Teresa Herriman can be reached at therriman@courierherald.com.

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