Three recent examples show that government is most motivated to swap land for top value when it fears owners are about to do something awful to their property.
Spokane County bought 84 acres at Liberty Lake last year for $236,000. Negotiations went nowhere until the owner threatened to log the land, which is popular with hikers.
The state is about to swap 308 developable acres at Nine Mile for an isolated 160 acres on Quartz Mountain, within Mount Spokane State Park.
Trade talks started after the owner hired a logger and talked about mining the mountain. Appraisers who set the value of the land gave the owners credit for $500,000 worth of quartz.
The most recent example is a swap to prevent gravel mining in Riverside State Park.
The state plans to trade a remote 122-acre parcel north of Mount Spokane for a 73-acre alfalfa field under a power line in Riverside State Park. The trade is part of the state park commission’s goal of owning all the private land within the park.
Appraisers say the parcels are worth $250,000 apiece. As with all government land trades, those appraisals are based on the “highest and best use” for the land. The highest value in the Seven Mile land isn’t in growing alfalfa or building homes, but in digging gravel.
M&M; Investments Co., which is owned by the same family that owns Central PreMix Concrete Co., has permits for a pit on 22 acres of the land. It received those permits in the 1970s, before the state started adding to the park, said developer Greg Yost, who has an option to buy the land and initiated the trade.
M&M; hasn’t mined the gravel, Yost said, because there wasn’t enough construction near Seven Mile to justify the cost. Road and housing projects in the area mean the pit soon may be viable.
“Those gravel permits are worth a lot of money. It takes years to get a permit issued from Olympia, and then you have to pay an annual fee to keep it active,” said Yost, who plans to buy the Seven Mile land just before the trade is completed.
Yost, who lives near Riverside State Park, said he probably will cut some trees from the Mount Spokane land, then sell it, either whole or in parcels of 40 acres or more. “It will not be clearcut, absolutely not,” he said.
The alternative to the trade, he said, is “a huge gravel pit with huge equipment,” near Riverside Park’s off-road vehicle course.
The prospect scares Ken Carmichael, who lives about a mile from the alfalfa field.
“It could mess up the whole park,” Carmichael said during a public hearing Tuesday.
State parks officials had similar fears about mining at Quartz Mountain. Atlas Mining Co. is a co-owner of the land, which is at the east end of cross-country ski trails in Mount Spokane State Park.
“It (a mine) would be a gaping hole you’d be able to see from all over the park,” said Carlyle Staab, state parks negotiator.
Quartz Mountain owners already had hired a logger and were talking about re-opening an old mine when they filed a 1993 lawsuit seeking access to the mountain through the park. That access was cut off in 1988, when Inland Empire Paper Co. sold land to the state.
The trade is in the final stages of negotiation, said parks commission spokesman Dick Fankhauser.
The Liberty Lake purchase involved a similar threat. Owner Denny Yasuhara told county parks officials he wanted to preserve the land but couldn’t afford to keep it.
Negotiations stalled because an inaccurate appraisal set the value at $77,000, far less than the amount Yasuhara thought the land was worth. The talks resumed, and the county hired another appraiser, when the state granted Yasuhara’s request for a logging permit.
The state parks commission will consider the trade involving Greg Yost’s Seven Mile property during its meeting next Friday meeting in Aberdeen. For more information, or to comment on the proposal, call (360) 902-8650 or write to: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, 7150 Cleanwater Lane, P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, Wash. 98504-2650.