The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday unanimously adopted a supplemental budget that includes a $1 million appropriation for the East Hylebos Watershed Conservation, which would be used to acquire and protect open space on the former Weyerhaeuser campus.
The project targets 53.8 acres of category one wetland, wetland buffer, lakefront and associated forests along North Lake in the headwaters of the East Hylebos Watershed. The allocation is the start of a multiyear fundraising campaign to aid in the long-term vision for conservation of this land alongside development.
“It is rare to find this kind of habitat,” said County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, whose district includes the East Hylebos Watershed. “If we can protect it, this million dollars is a good investment to do it. This money is a down payment on the future. Once it is lost, it is not lost just for a generation, it is lost forever.”
Industrial Realty Group purchased Weyerhaeuser’s former 425-acre campus in 2016. Proposals to build warehouses on the property have raised concerns among Federal Way residents.
Earlier this year, Mayor Jim Ferrell solidified the city’s partnership with Save Weyerhaeuser Campus to protect the land by committing $1 million to the efforts from the city’s Surface Water Management funding. The next step is to get an appraisal of the site, Ferrell said. Earlier this year, officials placed the value at up to $10 million.
“I think, ultimately, it is a matter of what the sale price is going to be,” Ferrell said. “Therein lies the rub about how much more do we have to raise.”
The state’s capital budget, which did not get passed, included $250,000 for the North Lake land acquisition, Ferrell said, adding he hopes it will still go through when the Legislature reconvenes.
North Lake residents and Save Weyerhaeuser Campus members have been working to transfer the land to public ownership since they learned Weyerhaeuser would be leaving Federal Way a couple of years ago. Forterra, a nonprofit conservation, stewardship and community building organization with offices in Seattle and Tacoma, has been working with residents in their efforts.
The County Council on Monday also passed an ordinance authorizing the county executive to enter into an interlocal agreement with Federal Way to provide landmark designation and protection services for the property. Von Reichbauer, who sponsored the ordinance, said the goal of the agreement is to preserve the land.
“There are a dozen cities on the I-5 corridor,” he said. “There is only one city that has pristine habitat around North Lake and the headwaters of Hylebos Watershed. If we can preserve it, it is not just for this generation, it is forever. It is also going to change the scope of branding for the city of Federal Way.”
Preserving green space is paramount as more housing is built, von Reichbauer said.
“Where are people going to go to have a chance to walk with their kids, walk with their family, just get away themselves?” he said. “This is a critical link to making urban living more habitable. You’ve got to protect these unique habitats when you find them.”