On June 26, Gov. Gary Locke signed the state budget and it included some good news for SDS Lumber Co. of Bingen: a $2.7 million payment. The fund was intended to compensate SDS for the value of land it lost when the Washington Department of Natural Resources placed severe logging restrictions on a 232-acre parcel SDS owned in the northwest corner of Klickitat County.
The restrictions followed the discovery of a nesting pair of spotted owls.
"He did not veto our item, so the settlement will be completed. The Legislature has provided for the money, and the governor has approved," explained SDS President Jason Spadaro.
SDS sued the DNR in 2000, contending the rules effectively halted the company from using the land for timber harvest. A Yakima jury subsequently awarded SDS $2.25 million, roughly equivalent to the appraised value of the timber on the parcel.
The DNR appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, but Washington State Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland later recommended paying SDS $2.7 million (the higher figure represents the interest that could have been made on the $2.25 million since 2000) for the land in an effort to settle out of court.
Sutherland asked the Legislature to provide funds to purchase the SDS land as a way to help protect spotted owl habitat. SDS in turn could use the money to buy land where fewer restrictions would be imposed.
Now that the governor has signed off on the budget, Spadaro said the company is working hard to locate property to replace the land it is giving up in the transaction.
"We have been searching, and have found a few parcels we're trying to evaluate," he said.
Spadaro declined to specify where the land was.
The settlement with DNR is expected to be completed this summer or early fall.