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WATERLINE - June, 2014

The Lake Nahwatzel Story:  An Unfinished Journey

Lake Nahwatzel 9-18-13 069

Lake Nahwatzel is a working community in which most homeowners are retirees or multi-generation owners.

By Bob Dick, President, Friends of Lake Nahwatzel

The story of Lake Nahwatzel is unfinished as a small, underfunded but dedicated group of citizens work to save a piece of habitat that will be invaluable as people continue to discover the Pacific Northwest.

The Lake with the Funny Name

Lake Nahwatzel’s name is lost to antiquity but appears to be Native American or a corruption thereof. The lake is 270 acres in size, of glacial origin and located in central-western Mason County. It has an ephemeral inlet and year-round outlet; ironically, both are named “Outlet Creek.” The lake is spring-fed, unusually clear and clean for a shallow lowland lake. The entire north shore is undeveloped with a substantial buffer of second-growth forest with old growth characteristics. Adjacent wetlands and commercial forest lands of different ages create a wide variety of habitat that reaches Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park.

The Journey Begins

The undeveloped north shore was originally zoned by Mason County for “long-term commercial forestry” and is owned by Green Diamond Resource Company. In the winter of 2011, residents noticed flagging on the north shore. Concerns increased when the surveyors told curious residents that they were sworn to secrecy. Further investigation showed that Mason County’s Comprehensive Plan had been quietly amended to allow large landowners to “down-zone” forest lands with substantially reduced public input and examination. In addition, a request had been made to rezone the north shore to “rural residential.”

In response, “Friends of Lake Nahwatzel” was formally organized in July 2012 with the initial organizing meeting held at a local tavern. We quickly discovered that the clock was already ticking for the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) review of the rezone. We suddenly found ourselves engaged in organizing, fund-raising, hiring an attorney, and responding to the SEPA review – all at the same time.

The “Friends” experience with the SEPA review process was extremely discouraging. Our lengthy SEPA analysis was mostly disregarded by the County, and the subsequent appeal was denied. Within hours of the appeal denial, Mason County’s Planning Commission voted to recommend the rezone with only three or four minutes of discussion. Mason County Commissioners met in December, 2012 to vote on the rezone proposal. Our attorney warned us to not expect a denial, i.e., that we would lose. Initial discussion supported that notion, but in a dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime moment, the vote went 2-1 for denial. We won — or so we thought. In less than a year, the proponent sought and was granted early reconsideration. This time the council voted in favor of the rezone, 3-0.

A New Day Dawns

Immediately following the vote, in a surprise turn of events, Green Diamond asked if Friends of Lake Nahwatzel would be interested in working with them to find a solution. It took two heartbeats to say, “Yes!” It took four heartbeats to wonder why it took eight months of expensive, time-eating political warfare to arrive at this point . . .

About the time we began to understand comprehensive plans, SEPA review and County politics, we were thrust into a new environment of conservation easements, land purchases, land management, statutory ambiguities and a new world of former adversaries now becoming friends. It was breath-taking.

We met with Green Diamond and the conservation organization Forterra and left with a whole new vocabulary, lists of people and issues and the daunting knowledge that we would need to raise between $500,000 and $2 million to buy either a conservation easement or fee purchase of Lake Nahwatzel’s north shore.

Lake Nahwatzel is a working community in which most homeowners are retirees or multi-generation owners. More than a few have roots deep in Mason County’s history of loggers, sawmill workers, truckers and others whose livelihoods depended on the woods. A million dollars is an enormous amount of money to those of us who send off mortgage payments every month and plan ahead to pay taxes and other bills. We raised $50,000 in our efforts to cope with the SEPA review, county hearings, etc., but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the amounts of money we’re forced to consider now. But we are dealing with it and have made the commitment to raise enough money to purchase the land. By working with Forterra to update the statutory LMD language, we have completed another step toward purchasing the land.

Our journey is partly done and we are much wiser for the trail traveled thus far. We are most fortunate to have found WALPA and the technicians who helped us analyze Lake Nahwatzel. For that we thank long-time WALPA member Steve Boothe. Forterra has been also been a Godsend as the organization’s staff helped lead us through the tangled web of land conservation.

We will continue to rely on help from them and many others as we move forward in our journey to protect Lake Nahwatzel.


June 2014 HOME

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The Lake Nahwatzel Story: An Unfinished Journey


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