Reacting to public anger over Weyerhaeuser Co.’s fee-for-entry policy, commissioners in Cowlitz and Grays Harbor counties are looking for ways to block the move or lessen its effect.
A proposal in Grays Harbor County would raise Weyerhaeuser’s property tax, though a company spokesman said Thursday linking land access to taxes might be illegal.
Weyerhaeuser plans to start charging $150 for a family permit to visit much of its land around Longview starting Aug. 1. Some areas will be leased to the highest bidder. The company is also expanding its fee access program in Grays Harbor County.
More than 400 people have signed a petition asking the Cowlitz County commissioners to try to stop Weyerhaeuser from charging for public access. Chris Bornstedt of Kelso started the petition several weeks ago, leaving copies in local sporting goods stores. Bornstedt said the fee access system will be bad for the local economy because it will discourage hunters from spending.
“We’ll take (the petition) to county commissioners and let them know we aren’t happy with it,” Bornstedt said.
Cowlitz County Commissioner Jim Misner said he’s asked Weyerhaeuser to waive or reduce permit fees for Cowlitz County residents and for current and retired company workers.
At the commissioners’ meeting Thursday, Misner said he has asked Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez if the company could reduce fees for people who carry garbage bags into the forest and pick up trash. He said Waste Control has offered to put dumpsters at five locations in the county where woods trash could be dumped, though there's no formal agreement at this point.
“I told him a lot of hunters are going to be reluctant to hunt our local timberlands now because of the hoof-disease epidemic, so a lot of them aren’t going to hunt locally anyway,” Misner said. “The other thing is, I think it’s just good PR for the locals. Anthony likes the idea, but he wants to run it up the chain.”
Hunters are also upset in Grays Harbor County, where a proposed ordinance would increase taxes for timber companies that charge for access. Traditionally, Grays Harbor County allows some timber owners to pay lower taxes on land primarily used for growing and harvesting timber. Grays Harbor County Commissioner Wes Comier wants to eliminate the tax break for landowners who charge for public access.
Grays Harbor will hold a hearing on the proposal on June 23.
In an email, Chavez told The Daily News, “we are evaluating the ordinance and question the county’s authority to tax our timberlands in this way. Our preliminary research suggests the ordinance is inconsistent with state law and invalid.” The note did not elaborate.
“I think that Grays Harbor is on to something,” Misner said. He said he has asked the Cowlitz County’s prosecutor’s office to review the legality off the proposed Grays Harbor ordinance. Misner also suggested the commissioners hold a forum and invite people who have signed Bornstedt’s petition.
Cowlitz County Commissioner Mike Karnofski, a former Weyerhaeuser Co. employee, said he wanted to hear the Cowlitz County legal staff’s opinion of the taxation ordinance before considering a forum.
Shari Phiel covers Cowlitz County government, transportation and environmental issues for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2510 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom Paulu is a features writer for The Daily News. He covers Outdoors and Entertainment, among other things. Reach him at 360-577-2540 or email@example.com.