The likelihood of the Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park’s acquisition of a 350-acre Department of Natural Resources parcel for a park is still uncertain, although the Legislature has come up with a proposed fix to the problem that has held up the transfer of many similar state properties.
At issue is a timber-to-land ratio requirement DNR must meet when it transfers its properties, through legislative fund appropriations, to local public agencies through the Trust Land Transfer program. Considered “transition properties” that DNR no longer finds viable for timber, these parcels are on a list for disposal — however, since the agency’s mandate is to maximize revenue from these lands on behalf of the trustees, they must receive fair market value through funds appropriated specifically for this purpose in the legislative budget.
Although not based on an actual state law, the program uses an 80/20 timber/land value ratio when creating its statewide list of proposed transfers. While each property’s ratio is different, overall the package has an 80/20 formula, and the list is prioritized based on the highest timber/land ratio.
After a 350-acre parcel called in state documents “Horseshoe Lake” was slated to be transferred to the KPMPD during the 2005-07 biennium, a discovery of gravel skewed the ratio, and the transfer was placed on hold. (Note: This “Horseshoe Lake” park property is not related to the Horseshoe Lake Kitsap County Park, which is located nearby.) With increasing land values, however, other DNR properties are facing similar issues.
“In Puget Sound, many properties have the ratio problem, while DNR would prefer to see them go to public agencies (through the trust land transfer program), and they want to dispose of those properties,” said Brad Pruitt, a DNR resource lands transaction specialist, in a presentation at the March 12 KPMPD board meeting.
As a solution, DNR is proposing leasing these properties instead of transferring them outright — which will not impact the ratio. On the original 2007-09 list, the Horseshoe Lake parcel was among several proposed leases, including a local 60-acre parcel called Maple Hollow. The proposed leases were for 30 years, which likely would not allow the park district to pursue major developments at those parks.
Pruitt brought along the idea to commissioners of replacing the Horseshoe Lake property on the 2007-09 list with another, a 400-acre parcel in Key Center that could be transferred in several segments. He said DNR wanted to study the Horseshoe Lake parcel to come up with a solution, but in the meantime they wanted to give the park district another opportunity. The commissioners liked the idea for the Key Center “park,” but not at the expense of the “360,” as they’ve nicknamed the Horseshoe Lake land, based on original documents saying the property had 360, not 350 acres.
“We still have great plans for the ‘360,’ and we shouldn’t let it go lightly,” KPMPD President Caril Ridley said at the meeting.
Commissioners also took issue with the fact that once the gravel was discovered and a rough estimate obtained, the land appraisal was stopped. Yet, since the property has not had any gravel operations recently, it was not clear whether mining was actually viable, and the viability would impact the official appraisal figures. There is also the question of whether the property is landlocked, due to its current access through a Tacoma Power utility road.
“We are being held captive to the appraisal of the property,” while the gravel may actually be “worthless,” Commissioner Elmer Anderson said at the meeting.
The ratio itself has been a confusing issue. The 80/20 figure is part of the appropriation bill every biennium. While DNR officials have said the Legislature (vs. the DNR) sets the ratio through the budget bill, some local lawmakers thought the number was established by an RCW. KPMPD has tried to clarify that issue since last summer, with no results, according to Commissioner Kip Clinton.
At press time, the Legislature has proposed a new fix to the ratio problem: 99-year leases. A House bill establishing the lease law was in the House Committee on Capital Budget at the end of March.
Rep. Pat Lantz said DNR didn’t completely like the 99-year lease proposal, due to the agency’s fiduciary duty to maximize the land revenues, but she said it is likely going to be “up to the powers that be in the Senate.”
How it works: Legislative appropriation is used to pay DNR for the value of the property, which is then transferred (at no cost) to a public agency such as state parks, Fish & Wildlife, local park districts, cities and counties.
The appropriated dollars are used to pay off the value of timber (funds go to the Common School Construction Account); the value of land goes to DNR to purchase replacement properties for the same trust.