County awards $2.5 million to save gulch

By Sara Bruestle | Sep 18, 2013

Mukilteo is $2.5 million closer to realizing its vision of preserving more of Japanese Gulch as parkland.

Snohomish County Council on Sept. 10 awarded a Conservation Futures grant to Mukilteo to purchase the last 97 acres of undeveloped land on the border of Mukilteo and Everett. The council voted 4-1 to fund it and several other projects.

Mukilteo’s was one of 29 projects to request a cut of $25 million in grants. The county’s Conservation Futures Advisory Board had recommended that the county award the $2.5 million.

The Conservation Futures grants are the result of a $120 million bond sale in April.

“I’m very happy with the county’s decision,” Mayor Joe Marine said. “It’s certainly the right thing to do. Japanese Gulch is the perfect use for that (bond), with regard to property values.”

Mukilteo, in partnership with Washington state, is seeking to acquire all 140 acres of undeveloped land in Japanese Gulch and preserve it as parks and open space.  The city owns about 40 acres of the gulch, including 1 acre on the Mukilteo Tank Farm.

The city is in negotiations with owner Metropolitan Trust, with the help of the independent land trust Forterra. An appraisal of the land is also in the works.

Mukilteo is in a time crunch to acquire the land: Metropolitan Trust is bankrupt and has been court ordered to sell the property by 2014. If it isn’t sold to the city, a private developer may get it.

The city now has $4.3 million in funds allocated to pay for the gulch, including another $800,000 from Snohomish County (also Conservation Futures grants) and $1 million from the state.

Councilmember Jennifer Gregerson has identified an additional $700,000 in city funds to go toward the purchase. If included, the city’s total in hand would be $5 million.

Gregerson said she went through the city’s funds line by line and found dollars that haven’t been spent or could be cut from the budget.

“It’s time to get serious and really start identifying and setting aside the dollars we have available, so that we can make an offer on the property,” she said.

She said $5 million is more than a fair price. She doesn’t think the land is worth $6.3 million, one estimated price of the available 97 acres.

With the $2.5 million from the county, Mukilteo is closer than it’s ever been to making an offer. Marine expects the city will draw up a purchase and sale agreement before the end of this year.

“We will be making an offer to Metropolitan, he said. “I really don’t know how much yet, but having that $4.3 million in hand goes a long way to making an incredible offer.

“It’s enough to be taken seriously.”

Marine noted those funds all come from the county and the state, as well as another $1 million from the state that was used to purchased 17 acres of the gulch in 2010.

“We can say without a doubt that the state and the region has stepped up and really funded the majority of the Japanese Gulch – not just for our residents, but for residents in our area who have used it and will continue to use it in the future.”

The county won’t raise taxes to pay back the bonds, but instead plans to repay them through future property taxes already collected for conservation.

Conservation Futures funds are collected from property taxes and, by law, can only be used to preserve land.

The Snohomish County Conservation Futures Board makes annual recommendations to the council for projects to be funded as part of the Conservation Futures program.

Council President Randy Lord represents Snohomish County cities with populations of more than 5,000 on the board.

“What’s nice for Mukilteo is it’s a way for the county to support a regional park in the Mukilteo area,” he said. “I’m very proud to help conserve the land.”

Arnie Hammerman, president of the Japanese Gulch Group, which supports the preservation of the gulch, was at the County Council meeting on Sept. 10.

“It’s a historic day for the gulch, because we are getting so close,” Hammerman said last Tuesday.

“We finally have a realistic offer to present to the seller. It’s not over until it’s over, but all the factors are lining up in the right way. Hopefully, we’ll have a purchase and sale agreement in the next couple of months.”

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