Land acquisition discussion coming to East Wenatchee
EAST WENATCHEE — Douglas County commissioners are defending their support of a state land buy near Grand Coulee, saying they expect the public benefit from new fishing and hunting opportunities to far outweigh lost tax revenue.
Their defense comes in the wake of an April 3 presentation by the Okanogan County Farm Bureau in Withrow about the importance of private property ownership, and how state land purchases have changed Okanogan County. Another presentation is planned in East Wenatchee on May 5.
Douglas County commissioners say they support the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan to buy the 20,500-acre Grand Coulee Ranch, including a 4,100-acre piece already approved by the state and scheduled for purchase this year. Before supporting it, they ensured that the property would remain open to grazing.
Regional Wildlife director Jim Brown said the land is being acquired to protect sharp-tail grouse and to provide public access for recreation, particularly to the Columbia River and Rufus Woods Lake.
Commissioners Steve Jenkins and Dale Snyder say they understand why land acquisition is an issue in Okanogan County. “But we’re totally different than Okanogan County — just the opposite,” said Jenkins. “We’re losing all our land to people who are buying it privately and locking it off to the public. We need some areas in Douglas County that are open to the public,” he said.
Snyder said the 20,500-acre parcel — if the entire piece is eventually purchased — brings in just over $3,000 a year in taxes to the county, and a little over $4,100 in taxes to other taxing districts, like schools. Those taxes would just be shifted to other property owners. “It’s disingenuous to say the county and schools will lose tax revenue, because they won’t,” he said.
And, both commissioners said, the added bird and deer hunting and fishing opportunities has the potential for bringing recreation to a largely unvisited part of the county.
Jenkins said full purchase would open access to a 15-mile stretch of the Columbia River. “We’re not going to lose any money,” he said.
Frances Dinger, a spokeswoman for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition which supports the acquisition, said several studies have shown the economic benefits that outdoor recreation brings. Statewide, she said, it generates some $22.5 billion in retail revenue, 227,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue. Hunting adds another $1.6 billion in retail sales, and $159 million in taxes, she said.
Jenkins added that as a private property rights advocate, he would not stand in the way of a landowner who wants to sell to a government agency, unless the planned use for that property was clearly a detriment to the public.
Fish and Wildlife officials say the agency only buys property from willing sellers.