Potential Ilwaco forest acquisition

Ilwaco’s Indian Creek reservoir, which supplies the town’s water, is surrounded by forestland. Ilwaco wants to buy adjacent timber to protect water quality and preserve high-quality land for a variety of other functions.

ILWACO — Headway was made last week in the city of Ilwaco’s quest to protect both its water source and the environment in the near — and far — future.

At the June 22 Ilwaco City Council meeting, the city announced it received a $600,000 grant via the USDA Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program that will go toward the city’s pursuit to purchase about $2.84 million worth of land and timber rights, to both protect the Indian Creek Watershed and preserve surrounding land as the Bear Ridge Community Forest. Ilwaco was one of just 10 entities in the country to receive funding from the program this year.

At the meeting, councilors also formally approved a resolution to accept a low-interest loan from the state Department of Ecology to act as a backstop for the acquisition of the watershed and timber rights. The $3.3 million loan is to be repaid over the course of 20 years at 1.3% interest, but can be returned and interest does not need to be paid unless the money is used.

“We don’t have to spend a penny of [the loan] if we don’t want to. We’re not obligated to anything, it just sits in an account,” said Councilor Matt Lessnau, who has spearheaded the community forest project for the city. “This is just kind of back-up money, we hope we don’t have to spend it. We’re hoping to find other sources of revenue and we’re hoping to extend our purchase timeline.”

Lessnau was encouraged about the city receiving state funds during the 2021 legislative session after discussions earlier in the year with state Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview) and other state officials. But the economic fallout from the covid-19 pandemic has muddied the state’s financial outlook and budget priorities when legislators return to Olympia next January.

The plan to acquire the land is for The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that specializes in land conservation, to purchase the timber deeds and property in question, and hold the property until the city is ready and able to purchase it from the organization. Weyerhaeuser Company owns two timber deeds totaling 178 acres, while another 210 acres of watershed area outside of Ilwaco city management would also be purchased.

The acquisition of the timber deeds and the forest land would allow the city to completely own and manage a community forest that surrounds Ilwaco’s drinking water source, which is collected from Indian Creek. Both of the timber deeds expire in 2028.

The city’s forest stewardship plan, approved by the city council in January, said the acquisition of the timber deeds and forest land provide several benefits, including: a financial return that will decrease the cost of water filtration over time; a decrease in sediment and temperature in source water; the ability to develop local opportunities for recreation in the forest; and a reliable tourism attraction that creates strong community involvement.

“It’s been a slog. And it’s so far away it’s almost disheartening, but we’re getting there,” Lessnau said.

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