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City enlists allies to help fight DNR over tidelands lease

"Three weeks after attempting to gain an audience with state DNR officials to renegotiate a tidelands lease, the city of Langley called in its big guns to push the issue. Langley City Council member Bill Hawkins said pressure from Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano) has the Department of Natural Resources working to schedule a meeting. He said the agency ignored Langley's request for three weeks.At issue is the city's lease of 0.47 acres of tidelands from DNR for its Small Boat Harbor. The city has leased the tidelands acreage for more than 30 years and originally paid $5 a year for its use. That lease will cost the city more than $10,000 this year and promises to climb higher in the future. Langley, along with Oak Harbor and several other Western Washington communities, wants the lease rate cut or eliminated to put them on a parity with port districts. Port districts do not pay the DNR to lease state tidelands.At Wednesday's Langley City Council meeting, Rep. Dave Anderson (D-Clinton) stopped in to explain that local legislators have a united front against the lease payments. He said there should be no distinction between cities and ports when it comes to tidelands rental.It's an artificial distinction in my mind, Anderson said.Anderson and South Whidbey's other legislators have worked for several years to remove the lease burden from the city. Two years ago, the state Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Gary Locke that would have ended the lease requirement. Locke vetoed the bill.Anderson said DNR Commissioner Jennifer Belcher did not want to see the lease revenue disappear then, nor does she now. In recent years, the agency has made less and less money from timber sales as cutting on state lands has been restricted by the legislature. Langley's $10,000 is now a more significant income source than it was just a decade ago.Councilmember Ray Honerlah said there is no logical way to argue that DNR needs the money more than Langley.That $10,000 is a hell of a lot more important to us than it is to Jennifer Belcher, Honerlah said.Anderson said he and the other South Whidbey representatives will try to put another bill on Gov. Locke's desk that will end the lease payments. At a meeting last spring in Oak Harbor, Locke vowed to sign such a bill if it came through his office again.In the meantime, Councilmember Neil Colburn suggested that the city use a legal maneuver to dodge this year's lease payment: If we talk to the Port and give them a buck and sign an interlocal agreement or look at that as a real possibility, Colburn said.DNR has not yet given a date for the meeting. Hawkins said the meeting will be a preliminary effort to get the lease payments removed.How the DNR sets its ratesby Jim Larsen, Record editorLangley's tideland lease with the DNR has skyrocketed over the years because the fee is tied to the value of upland property.Chad Uland, a DNR land manger for this area, recently explained: There is a standard formula for water-dependent users. It's all based on upland values.The lease fee for tidelands is based on the value of the abutting upland property minus improvements, Uland said. A formula based on the upland values determines the annual tidelands lease fee. It goes up and up over time, Uland said, noting the rising assessments for waterfront property throughout the Puget Sound region.Land managers such as himself are required to stick to the formula, Uland said. There's no real wiggle room.However, changes can be made. Friday Harbor recently reduced its DNR tidelands lease, but Uland said that was done through the port district negotiating with the DNR. At the highest level of our department they have the latitude to do that, he said."

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