The state Legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget last week has left several public lands projects in Skagit County in limbo.
Among them is the state Department of Natural Resources’ need for $7.7 million to permanently preserve the central recreation area in the Blanchard State Forest.
Natural Resources needs the money to fulfill an agreement with Skagit County to purchase state trust lands elsewhere to prevent logging in the area referred to as the core, which includes the popular Oyster Dome Trail and the Samish Overlook.
“While the capital budget had near-unanimous support in the House, the Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote, blocking $4.2 billion in more than 1,400 projects across Washington,” Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said in a prepared statement. “In our district, the capital budget would have funded critical community and recreation programs in North Puget Sound, and finally create the Harriet Spanel State Forest, also known as Blanchard Mountain.”
Ranker, who helped negotiate the budget in the state House of Representatives, said earlier this year that he would work to secure funding to spare recreation areas in the Blanchard forest from logging and to rename the area after longtime legislator and Bellingham-area activist Harriet Spanel. It was an idea supported by Reps. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, and Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.
The budget passed by the House included about $10 million for Blanchard, Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Dave Pringle said.
The Associated Press reported the Senate refused to vote on the budget because of disagreements over a state Supreme Court ruling about water rights. That ruling is referred to as the Hirst decision.
Lytton expressed disappointment in an email statement about the Senate’s failure to pass a capital budget.
“Many of you are hoping for a resolution to Blanchard Mountain and I wish I had better news to share. ... Without Senate approval, there will be no new funding to keep parts of Blanchard safe from logging,” she said.
Natural Resources and Skagit County agreed earlier this year to move forward with logging in a 50-acre area of the Blanchard core this summer if the Legislature did not provide the $7.7 million.
But Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smilie said that plan is on hold.
“Because the problem is not that we were denied funding, but rather there was no overall funding package, we’re hopeful legislators will come back and fund our Blanchard purchase through a capital budget passed either this fall or early next session,” he said. “In the meantime, we will be reconvening the Blanchard committee in the fall to discuss the path ahead.”
The committee includes members from Skagit County government, the Skagit Land Trust, Friends of Blanchard, Back Country Horsemen, Pacific Northwest Trails Association, Larrabee State Park, Sierra Pacific and Bloedel Timber.
Many committee members were involved in negotiating the unfulfilled 2008 agreement to replace the timber lands in the Blanchard core with forestland elsewhere.
That agreement was set up to continue providing logging revenue to Skagit County taxing districts while preserving recreation opportunities that draw thousands to the Blanchard forest.
“In spite of this disappointing loss, we will continue to work with the community in the surrounding area,” state Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz said in a news release. “I look forward to talking about a path forward with our friends in Skagit County.”
Without a capital budget, Natural Resources is also unable to fund Puget SoundCorps.
Smilie said Puget SoundCorps handles projects such as those that keep trails in the Blanchard, Walker Valley and Harry Osborne recreation areas maintained and accessible, and those that involve monitoring eelgrass in the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve.
Plans to expand, develop and restore public lands on Cypress Island, Fir Island, near Samish Island and in the Blanchard forest are also on hold without a capital budget.
Natural Resources and the state Department of Fish & Wildlife are seeking $3.1 million in Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program grants for work in those areas.
But program spokeswoman Danica Johnson said those grants cannot be awarded without a budget in place.