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Friends of Rocky Prairie
Action Alerts and Updates

 


Join Our Growing Coalition!

Email us at ForPrairie@hotmail.com to learn of upcoming events, public hearings, and to receive updates.
(We do not share our email list with anyone.)

Thurston County commissioners ruled that the Maytown gravel mine project requires more environmental review.  March 3, 2011

 

Thurston County now posting all documents related to Maytown on two web sites:

 

Downzone of Rocky Prairie is Official

On Sept. 7th, 2010, our Thurston County Commissioners voted to enact the official rezoning of the Rocky Prairie property.  They removed the Rural Resource Industrial designation from that property and made the maximum allowable density 1 house per 20 acres.

We appreciate the Commissioners for listening, and responding, to citizen concerns.


Legal Battle Under Way to Save Rocky Prairie

We believe that the gravel-mining permit that may have been valid when the Port of Tacoma bought the site is long-since out of compliance: Deadlines for the conditional permit were missed, and required reports were incomplete.

We have excellent attorneys who assure us that we have a strong case.  We need to go to court and must have legal representation so that we don't lose on a technicality.

Legal fees to defend this property are mounting.  Any contributions toward the legal expenses would be greatly appreciated. 

Please send anything you can to:

Friends of Rocky Prairie
PO Box
14089
Tenino, WA  98589


What's Next?

In addition to the legal struggle mentioned above, FORP continue to work with state and federal agencies and conservation organizations to preserve this sensitive habitat and its rare and endangered species.

Among the groups we're working with:

  • WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • The Nature Conservancy

  • Capitol Land Trust 

  • Cascade Land Conservancy


Previous Newspaper Articles

Port should pull property off the market
Editorial from the Olympian's Editorial Board, published December 19, 2008, The Olympian newspaper.

The Port of Tacoma should allow Friends of Rocky Prairie, state agencies and conservation groups the opportunity to put a plan together to purchase and preserve the port's property in southern Thurston County..
The Friends is a grass-roots organization that grew out of Tacoma's plans to build a logistics and cargo-shipping center on 745 acres of port-owned property near Maytown. The citizens are the David that slew the Goliath. Their efforts to point out significant environmental problems with an industrial development in a rural area immediately put the Port of Tacoma on the defense. Last summer, the partnership between Tacoma and the Port of Olympia for the logistics center was dissolved. Tacoma officials announced that the property they purchased in 2006 for $22 million is up for sale.
But an interesting thing happened along the tortured path.
The Friends of Rocky Prairie, which began as a small group of concerned residents gathered in a Maytown-area living room, has mushroomed into a powerful citizen-driven organization that has drawn 2,000 supporters and the attention of elected and appointed officials and the state and local level.
And what started out as a group of average citizens concerned about development in their own neighborhood has morphed into an organization that has a deep and abiding commitment to preserving the fragile prairie environment ecosystem that would have been seriously compromised by the port's development plan.
Somewhere along the way, the Friends of the Rocky Prairie had a genuine "a ha" moment when they looked at the prairie and understood what a precious natural resource they had amid them. They moved from "Not in my back yard," to "We've got to preserve my back yard."
It's been a remarkable transformation.
In reality, the Friends organization is, today, a victim of its own success. Other larger and better-resourced groups, including state agencies are looking to the citizens group to save the 745 acres. The Friends can be part of the solution, but leadership also must come from state agencies and environmental preservation organizations.
And it's going to take the cooperation of the Port of Tacoma, which probably would like to forget the whole mess, sell the property and move forward with its operation in Pierce County.
But the Port of Tacoma has a mission "to be a leader in conducting business in a way that protects our environmental quality." The port says it will achieve that goal through core values that include integrity, vitality, stewardship (protecting public resources) and partnership.
We hope port officials really mean it, because the Friends of the Rocky Prairie has a legitimate request of the port.
The Friends have asked the port to delay the sale of the 745 acres while the grass-roots organization, state agency officials and environmental organizations such as the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy inventory the prairie land and put together a financing package to move it from one public ownership to another.
It's not too much to ask.
Port of Tacoma officials can be good neighbors by taking the property off the market for six months to a year. But it could be a good business decision for the port, as well.
If the preservation coalition is able to create a prairie mitigation program similar to wetland land banking that already exists, that could prove beneficial to the port's bottom line.
There's another business component, as well. Friends of Rocky Prairie aren't putting all its eggs in the attempt to purchase the property. They've also petitioned the county commissioners to downzone the property and about 1,000 acres around it. The port will get more money for property currently zoned for industrial use and one unit per five acres than they will receive if the property is downzoned to one unit per 20 acres.
That's why it makes good business sense for port officials maintain the status quo and cooperate with those hoping to buy the land and preserve it.
Port officials should take the first step toward their goal of being good stewards of natural resources by pulling the 745 acres off of the market and giving preservationists time to put a plan and financing package together.
Second Article!

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Group seeks to preserve Maytown property
Published December 21, 2008. The Olympian

Friends of Rocky Prairie scored a victory against a large opponent this year when it helped prevent the development of a major cargo center proposed by the Port of Tacoma.
Now, the citizens' group faces an even larger task as it looks to acquire and preserve the site — hundreds of acres of native prairie and oak woodland near Maytown that has rare habitat and could be home to threatened and endangered wildlife. The group is working on several fronts.
"It certainly is a challenge in these times — these hard economic times," said Sharron Coontz, the group's spokeswoman. "We have an awful lot of support for it. We'll just have to see if the Port of Tacoma will cooperate."
The Port of Tacoma intends to sell the property "as soon as possible," according to a spokeswoman, but the weakened economy means it won't divest of the land this year. The group is urging the port to hold off on a sale.
Citifor, a China-based timber-export company, sold the property to the Port of Tacoma for $22 million on July 26, 2006. Seven months earlier, Thurston County approved a special-use permit to authorize the company to mine 284 acres of the property for a total of 20.6 million cubic yards of gravel over 20 years. The company needed to satisfy numerous conditions before it could mine the property.
After the sale, the ports of Olympia and Tacoma proposed construction of the South Sound Logistics Center to stage and sort container freight before it's shipped on railcars and trucks.
The ports entered into an agreement to determine whether to pursue development of the logistics center. The agreement also was required because the Port of Tacoma purchased property in a neighboring port jurisdiction.
The project died when the Port of Tacoma decided not to extend the agreement past the expiration date of June 30. The port said the project was no longer viable because of the reduction in the number of container imports and the opposition of nearby residents.
Many of these residents united to form Friends of Rocky Prairie in February 2007. That fall, they requested the county rezone the entire property to allow one home every 20 acres. The group's petition contained 1,834 signatures.
The group says the property is home to endangered and threatened wildlife and plants and that any intensive development would endanger the rare prairie habitat. The property is near Millersylvania State Park and next to 800 acres of property the state Department of Fish and Wildlife acquired in 2006 to preserve its prairie, oak woodland and wetland habitat.
In April, county commissioners imposed a six-month moratorium on any new development for the industrial-zoned area of the property to give them time to evaluate the group's request. The moratorium is scheduled to expire in mid-April after the county extended it. The moratorium does not bar the port or another property owner from mining the property under the existing permit. The port spokeswoman said the agency has no plans to mine the property.
This month, county commissioners rejected requests by the Friends of Rocky Prairie to expand the moratorium to include the residential-zoned land or, as an alternative, enact interim zoning allowing only one house per 20 acres.
Commissioners declined to take emergency action because the existing residential zoning allowing one home every 5 acres did not pose an immediate threat to public safety, health or general welfare, and no development proposals are pending, Chief Administrative Officer Don Krupp said.
Three hundred acres are zoned for industrial use and the remaining 446 are zoned for residential use.
The "downzone" request to one home every 20 acres is pending. Such a change requires an amendment to the county's comprehensive plan, its master land-use blueprint. Amendments to the plan occur once a year. Commissioners will decide early next year whether to consider the rezone request as an amendment in 2009, said Scott Clark, the county's long-term planning manager.
The majority on the commission will change in the new year. Voters elected Sandra Romero to succeed commission Chairman Diane Oberquell, who is retiring. The two commissioners will appoint the successor to Commissioner Bob Macleod, who is resigning Dec. 31 for health reasons.
Meanwhile, Friends of Rocky Prairie is one of several members of a work group that Fish and Wildlife formed this summer to explore ways to purchase and preserve the property. It began a series of meetings in September. The work group also includes representatives of the state Department of Ecology, The Nature Conservancy, and other private and government agencies.
The work group has met a couple of times to explore ways to buy the property.
The port in October approved granting access to the property for a survey by Fish and Wildlife to verify the presence of threatened or endangered species or suitable habitat, said Elizabeth Rodrick, the agency's land-conservation manager.
"We need to be able to demonstrate and justify that the habitat is suitable for the species of concern," she said.
Doing that will help secure habitat acquisition grants to buy the property. If the work group is awarded a grant, however, the earliest it would receive the money is mid-summer 2010. Both the Friends and the work group plan to ask the port for time to negotiate a phased purchase of the property.
In September, the port hired CenturyPacific LP to market the property and handle the public-bid process.
The port has done a minimum amount of mining-related projects, forming berms and building a scale building on the property, to keep the special-use permit active for another three years. The permit was scheduled to expire Tuesday, three years to the day after the county hearing examiner approved it.
Friends of Rocky Prairie has questioned how the Port of Tacoma has authority to apply for permit to do the construction work on the property without the agreement with the Port of Olympia being in effect. The group hired a land-use attorney to review this issue.
The county put a hold on the building permit to construct the scale building in October until it answered that question, county records say.
Based on information from the port and county legal advice, county staff members determined that state law does not prevent the Port of Tacoma from completing projects that are intended only to preserve the value of the project, they say. The port is asking for $27.5 million for the property and is marketing its mining rights.
Seventeen interested parties have signed a confidential agreement to review the sales documents, said the spokeswoman, Tara Mattina. But they have asked for more time to pull together financing or think about making a bid, she said.
"We are unlikely to call for bids before the end of the year," she said.
Port commissioners have given direction that they want to recoup the investment, meaning that if bids are too low when the call goes out, they could start the process over or delay a sale, she said.
Christian Hill is a reporter for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.
 

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Port of Tacoma’s Maytown site full of maybes
Tacoma Tribune - Wednesday, December 21, 2008

The Port of Tacoma wants to sell its planned logistics center site near Maytown as quickly as possible, but conservationists want more time to raise money to buy it.
JOHN GILLIE; john.gillie@thenewstribune.com
Last updated: December 21st, 2008 08:38 AM (PST)
The Port of Tacoma’s three-year misadventure with a 745-acre tract of undeveloped industrial land in Thurston County could be over by midsummer if the port is successful in finding a buyer for the plot of prairie land near Maytown. But the port’s hopes for a smooth sale could be interrupted by some of the same forces that kept the port from carrying out its original mission to create a large rail yard on the former explosives plant site 12 miles south of Olympia.
The Maytown site, once ambitiously dubbed the South Sound Logistics Center, now is being marketed by a Seattle-based real estate firm, CenturyPacific, with an asking price of $27.5 million.
Port spokeswoman Tara Mattina said she expects a resolution to seek bids on the Maytown property could go to the Port of Tacoma Commission in January.
That’s too soon for conservation and preservation groups who say they need more time to do an inventory of endangered species on the site and to seek funding to buy the tract.
“We want the commission to give us more time,” said Sharron Coontz, spokeswoman for Friends of Rocky Prairie, the citizens group that successfully led the fight against the port’s plans to create a rail and industrial center on the site.
“What the big hurry, after all?” asked Coontz. The port isn’t in any dire need to recover its money, she said.
The port had told Thurston County and statewide conservation groups and agencies that it was sensitive to their needs to preserve the prairie, so why try to rush the process and deny conservation forces the time needed to get their offer together? she asked.
A coalition of state agencies and nature groups is studying how to buy and preserve the land, she said, but it takes time to seek grants and raise money. With the Legislature facing at least a projected $5 billion budget shortfall, the timing isn’t great to get state help.
The prairie land is among the last that’s undeveloped in Western Washington, she said. Less than 3 percent of the prairie land that once existed here remains.
Earlier surveys indicated that the Maytown property may be the home of several species of endangered butterflies and the rare Mazama pocket gopher, she said. If the property still is home to those species, that fact could open up the possibility of procuring funds set aside for endangered species habitat, she said.
Port opponents successfully persuaded the Port of Olympia and the Port of Tacoma to drop their agreement to develop the land. The Olympia port’s concurrence was necessary for the Port of Tacoma to develop land outside its home county.
The conservation and preservation groups also successfully lobbied for the Thurston County Commission to place a moratorium on industrial development on 40 percent of the Maytown
property. That moratorium expires at the end of March, but could be renewed.
Property owners near the port’s tract have also filed a petition asking that the county rezone the property to rural residential status from industrial.
The port’s Mattina said the port has a fiduciary duty to its voters not to let the port’s monetary assets sit idle. Potentially, selling the property would put the funds the port spent to buy and upgrade the property into use on other projects.
The economic downturn and credit crisis could prove to be an ally of the conservation forces. If the request for bids draws no or subpar offers, the port may have to wait until market conditions improve, said Coontz, allowing the conservation coalition time to gather its forces.
But the vice president of the company marketing the property for the port says that in spite of the sour economy, such a rare property will attract several ample offers.
Some 250 acres of the site is permitted for a gravel mine. That permit, the port contends, is good through at least 2012. A survey for Citifor, the previous owner, estimated that some 22 million cubic feet of gravel are available on the site. The permit allows 20 million cubic feet to be mined.
The development opponents question whether the port legally renewed that permit because they claim the port made improvements to the land to qualify for the renewal after the interlocal agreement with the Port of Olympia expired. The Port of Tacoma says the renewal was legal.
The tract is close to I-5 and is bisected by a Tacoma Rail route. On the eastern side of the property, the mainline rail route between Seattle and Portland used by both the BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad borders the site. Much of the site is zoned for rural industrial use.
That combination of attributes was what attracted the Port of Tacoma to buy the property for nearly $22 million in 2006. The port bought the property without getting an appraisal on it, but the port claims that the site’s assets and the fact that another bona fide bidder was making an identical offer on the property justified the price it paid.
The port then envisioned a rail yard where trains carrying intermodal containers could be stored and perhaps loaded while awaiting movement to the port’s wharfside rail yards. Space for rail yards near the port was increasingly difficult to find.
So far, 17 interested parties have signed confidentiality agreements to view detailed information about the property, a good showing of interest considering the market conditions, said Michael Finch, CenturyPacific vice president.
Finch expects a request for bids will draw at least two or three offers, if not more, he said.
The port’s asking price of $27.5 million includes the original cost of the land plus the costs of environmental and physical improvements the port made during its ownership, said Mattina.
“We have no reason to believe that the port will receive less than the full value for the property,” said Finch.
Substantial interest has been shown by companies who are interested in the gravel mining potential of the property. The Union Pacific Railroad has said it is interested in some 65 acres of the tract near the rail lines for unknown purposes, said Finch. Residential developers likewise have expressed some enthusiasm for the building potential of the land, he said.
It seems likely that the land may end up in several uses, said Finch, though there’s no predicting precisely what the bids may bring.
Coontz said preservation forces may have to rally again to prevent the property from being developed and lost for conservation purposes.
“I want to work with the port on this, but it looks like it may not be happening,” she said.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
blogs.thenewstribune.com/business

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Friends of Rocky Prairie

Contact us by email:  friendsofrockyprairie@gmail.com

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