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Posts published in “Day: December 17, 2006”

Together in adversity . . . an alternate view

power poleWhat was it people always used to say, about adversity bringing us together? Okay, sometimes it does. But not always.

David Goldstein of the Horses Ass blog is one of the many Seattleites left in the dark by Thursday's massive windstorm - still in the dark. And he has some issues about it:

"Down here in South Seattle, we tend to have a little chip on our shoulders about what we perceive to be a less than equal share of city services, so it didn’t escape my attention this morning when I called Seattle City Light for an update, and they proudly announced that they had restored all the downed feeders in the more affluent North end of the city, leaving us in the South end to freeze our asses off in the dark. The recording said that of the 55 feeders originally down, the 30 remaining are all in the South. Yippee."

Sale en masse

The great forest lands of the Northwest are in largest part public - a whole lot are national forest lands, or state-owned lands. But big, significant portions of those forest lands are privately held, many by timber companies and others - a growing number - by companies simply managing them, with no particular tie to timber.

forest in NC IdahoWe've been accustomed to the idea that these lands are almost a supplement to the public lands - logged to a greater degree, yes, and privately held, yes, but seeming not so different. But they are different, always have been and most certainly will be, and a new report from Potlatch underscores that. (A hat tip here to the correspondent who pointed this out.)

Idahoans are accustomed to thinking of Potlatch as a timber production company, what with its big plants at Lewiston and elsewhere, and it still is to a point. But it has been formally reorganized as a REIT - a real estate investment trust - and while it did that for tax and other business reasons, the reorg also highlighted the way the company is changing and its ongoing direction. Potlatch is the owner of 1.5 million acres of land, about 100,000 to 120,000 acres in Idaho alone. Think about the value real estate has taken in recent years, and the development growth Idaho has seen, and the shape of things to come begins to emerge.

Here's the key part of Potlatch's statement from Monday:

"After reorganizing as a REIT earlier this year, we began a process of taking a very deep look at all of the values associated with our land holdings," said President and Chief Executive Officer Michael J. Covey. "Through this intensive land value stratification process, we have identified those lands that are non-strategic to our core forestland operations. These higher valued forestlands are available to be sold over time and the proceeds may be used to fuel the growth of the company through acquisitions, or to pay down debt or execute a share repurchase program."

Potlatch's entire ownership of 1.5 million acres is located in desirable rural and mountain regions across the country. A significant portion of Potlatch lands have key attributes that make it superior recreational property. Additionally, in keeping with Potlatch's long tradition of managing forestland using the highest levels of stewardship, our forestlands are third-party certified.

"Potlatch's Idaho land holdings are located in the beautiful north-central part of the state, which has long been known for its spectacular wilderness, white water rivers, salmon, trout and steelhead fishing and big game hunting," said Vice President Land Sales and Development William R. DeReu. "Potlatch properties in Minnesota are rural, forested and located within a few hours drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Arkansas ownership, like Minnesota, offers exceptional opportunities for hunting and outdoor recreation in a beautiful mixed hardwood and conifer forest," added DeReu.

This should be considered new-directional, since Covey took over as CEO only earlier this year - this has the mark of a direction with the new administration's brand on it.

Imagine a large part of 110,000 acres up for sale in north-central Idaho: the region could be transformed.

Of course, we don't yet know how many of those acres will actually be posted for sale or new use. And there are limitations. A correspondent notes that "Potlatch entered into an agreement a couple of years ago with Trust for Public Lands, The Nature Conservancy and the feds to place conservation easements (logging ok, no development) on up to 70,000 acres of their Idaho lands for which they were to receive $40M from the federal treasury" - and that may be a significantly limiting factor. Or, in the nature of these things, possibly not as limiting as we think.

But you can get some indication from recent developments in Oregon, where Plum Creek Timber has filed a huge Measure 37 land use claim which could open the door to development - residential, commercial, industrial? - of 37,000 acres of forest land in Lincoln and Coos counties. That claim could fail, for several reasons, and even if it passes legally it might never be (probably would not be) fully executed.

But it shows the direction publicly-held timber companies, with their huge asset base and limited ability to accelerate their quarterly profits the way some others do, may be looking. Some of those directions could change very face of the Northwest.

First stop

As Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard cautions, it's only a step. But it is a step, this latest poll showing Clark County residents strongly in favor of expanding light rail to their side of the river.

We'll admit to a biased view. My sister is an example of a would-be eager user of such a system. She lives in east Vancouver, near I-205, but takes regular classes and does other work at Portland State University, in downtown Portland. Getting from one to the other is quite a bit of work and a big pain. If she could catch the rail up on her side of the river, the commute would be easy (especially with the extension now underway that will run straight through PSU). Her kind of situation is far from unique; Portland and Vancouver are part of one big metro area.

There are additional specific arguments. They run from the extreme traffic jam-ups at the I-5 Columbia River area, a daily mess and slowdown (probably the worst jam spot in the Portland area) to the shape of Vancouver - the densest population core running east-west, in parallel to Mill Plain Boulevard, creating a logical route for light rail. (A lot of Vancouverites would doubtless use it to run between the big residential areas and the downtown area lying southwest of most of them.

The light rail concept has seemed DOA for lack of public support. In 1995 voters in Vancouver rejected the idea of light rail development, by about 2-1. Despite that, Pollard (who has some personal popularity to trade on) and some others have continued to push for it. And now the margins have flipped - a poll by the interstate Columbia River Crossing study group now shows 68% support.