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Local organizations agree on Galbraith Mountain process

Mountain biker on Galbraith

The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and Whatcom Land Trust have reached an agreement with Polygon Financial 05, LLC, on how to proceed with negotiations on Galbraith Mountain. This is a first and very important step toward securing public access and protecting Galbraith Mountain in perpetuity.

The agreement is described in a memorandum of understanding (PDF) that does not legally bind the parties, but provides a framework for ongoing negotiations.

A great deal of work remains before the transaction is finished, including establishing terms of use for recreation and forestry, setting a price based on an appraisal and formal consideration of a complete package by the Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council.

City officials expect to find sources outside the General Fund for its portion of the shared costs if the deal moves forward.

Galbraith Mountain: a regional recreation and open space treasure

Galbraith Mountain is located near Bellingham city limits - north of Samish Way, east of Yew Street Road and south of Lake Louise Road.

This area has provided wonderful recreation opportunities, particularly for mountain biking enthusiasts. It serves local residents and is a draw for visitors to our area from all over the region and beyond. It also is an undeveloped treasure many wish to preserve, including nearly 1,400 acres located in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

For both bikers, hikers and others, Galbraith Mountain's popularity as a recreation destination is due entirely to the generosity of various private companies that have owned it during the past several years and allowed its extensive public use.

Terms of the agreement

Under the agreement signed May 11, 2011, the City, County and Whatcom Land Trust would acquire from Polygon a perpetual Recreational Use Easement giving the public non-motorized recreational access to Galbraith and a perpetual Working Forest Conservation Easement that would incorporate a forest management plan setting sustainable forest management parameters for future timber harvest. The terms of the Recreational Use Easement and the Working Forest Conservation Easement are the subject of future negotiations. Polygon would retain ownership of the property and the right to harvest timber according to the terms of the Working Forest Conservation Easement.

The easements would cover at least 2,400 of the approximately 3,000 acres owned by Polygon on Galbraith Mountain, including 1,400 acres in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. Polygon would retain unencumbered ownership of up to 600 acres on the west side of the property.

While the agreement does not set a purchase price, it does provide a mechanism for helping to determine a price. Once the basic elements of the Recreational Use and Working Forest Conservation Easements are settled, the parties will commission an appraisal to determine the value of the two easements. The parties have tentatively agreed to a purchase price of 5 million dollars. However, if the appraised value is more than 5 million dollars, Polygon is not obligated to sell; if the appraised value is less than 5 million dollars, the County and City are not obligated to buy. The City and County are not obligated to buy at all unless the City and County Councils give final approval to the terms of the transaction. The MOU price mechanism opens the way to getting an appraisal and then negotiating further to find agreement at the appraised fair market value.

In addition to public funds, City, County and Land Trust representatives believe they will receive financial support from private sources.

A win for all parties

This arrangement has critical components for making the transaction work:

More information:

 

Published: May 13, 2011

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