Arch Cape Community Forest project moves forward

A project that would conserve 2,100 acres of forest land in Arch Cape’s watershed continues to move forward.

About 50 people in the Arch Cape area came to learn about the ongoing community forest project in a public forum Saturday, Nov. 3.

Water treatment issues are part of the driving force behind why Arch Cape Water District and other community partners want their 2,100-acre watershed as a community forest. The designation would allow the water district to manage, conserve and harvest the forestland as they see fit with community input.

The Arch Cape community forest concept grew out of the North Coast Land Conservancy’s Rainforest Reserve campaign, which seeks to conserve 3500 acres of timberland above Arch Cape and adjacent to Oswald West State Park.

The water district is working with the North Coast Land Conservancy and Sustainable Northwest to raise enough money to buy the land from Ecotrust Forest Management, which is managing the property until the district can afford the purchase.

Water district board president Ron Schiffman, a resident for four decades, said this was a rare opportunity to make a dream a reality. Community forest models are common in other parts of the country, but fairly uncommon in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s important now because we have a willing seller,” Schiffman said. “We’ve never had that before. If we don’t buy it, they will log it themselves or sell it to another logging company.”

Schiffman said the water treatment has to shut down the plant each year to remove five dump trucks worth of sediment from run-off, which the district attributes to what they consider inadequate stream buffers and heavy rains.

“And you’re paying for that in your water bill,” he said.

While forum participants appeared to embrace the idea, some had questions about how it was going to be funded. The water district is currently in the running for a $5.5 million federal forest grant, but rough price estimates suggest the total purchase price could be as much as $7 million.

Bob Cerelli, a longtime resident, in theory likes the idea, and “hasn’t talked to anyone around town who is against it.”

“But ultimately, you have to present to us how much this is going to cost us. Otherwise it’s impossible for us to know whether or not to go for it,” Cerelli said.

Ben Dair, senior manager of conservation finance at Sustainable Northwest, said addressing that question is difficult given that the project is in early stages. If the district receives the grant, then they can explore different grant opportunities, small-interest loans and philanthropy to fill in the gap.

Formal appraisals of the timber by both the district and the property managers are also underway, which will help establish a more set price.

But whatever happens needs to happen within the next three years or so, Schiffman said, as the owners have agreed to manage the property for only a limited amount of time.

When residents in the audience asked of the cost could be passed along to them through water rates, Schiffman said any decisions concerning rates or how to pay for the shortfall would be “a board decision” and involve public hearings.

“We are not going to burden the community with a $7 million loan,” Schiffman said.



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