Wetland mitigation fees routed to riparian forestland owners

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- A bill designed to alleviate a $9 million backlog in compensation for landowners' conservation measures has been signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, was original sponsor of House Bill 2238. Wilcox said his intention was to help the state keep its commitment to forest landowners for the disproportionate impact that the 1999 Forest and Fish Law had on them.

Under the Forest Riparian Easement Program, or FREP, forest landowners agreed not to harvest timber near certain fish-bearing waters. In exchange, they would be compensated for half the value of the timber they did not harvest.

Landowners and legislators have tried to get sufficient funding for the program ever since.

Wilcox's solution remedies the situation without new state expenditures. Instead, the bill creates a new option for the mitigation required of any project that diminishes wetland functions. The option is the agreement to provide a monetary payment to a state program that enhances or preserves riparian and aquatic resources.

In the version signed into law, programs eligible to receive monetary payments are:

* FREP;

* Cost assistance for small forest landowners to repair forest roads, riparian and open space conservation easements; and

* Incentives to promote landowner conservation measures.

The governor is expected to sign a measure sponsored by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, which would clarify in state law that farmers and those who work for farmers need not have a commercial driver's license to move products from field to storage. Senate Bill 6423 received unanimous support from the Senate and passed the House of Representatives 97-1.

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