An environmental group who bought over 2,000 acres from a private timber company and then sold it to the U.S. Forest Service is suing Stevens County for property tax that they paid “under protest,” arguing that the land purchase should have been tax exempt.
Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) purchased over 2,400 acres along Sheep Creek in Stevens County from Tristate Northeast Washington Timberlands in 2014 and then sold it to the U.S. Forest Service. The group claimed the land was of value to USFS because it included habitat for “rare Redband and Bull Trout,” along with Grizzly Bears, Wolverines and Lynx. The motto of the organization is, “sometimes to save a river, you have to buy it.”
The group, who made $1.1 million on the sale of the Sheep Creek property, is suing in order to get a refund of the $194,652 they paid in property tax to Stevens County. The suit contends that the property was exempt under state law that makes land transfers to government agencies exempt (RCW 84.33.140).
However, Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell said the land was not exempt from taxation because Western Rivers never submitted a forestry plan to the county which would have kept the land in a “designated forest land” classification.
“A ‘designated forest land’ classification allows the property tax on a parcel to be deferred with the anticipation that timber harvested from the land will be subject to the county timber tax,” Dashiell said. “Since they didn’t file a forestry plan and don’t intend to harvest any timber, it doesn’t meet the qualifications so we charged the property tax.”
The lawsuit, filed June 29, demands a refund of the “unlawful taxes.” WRC legal counsel Michelle DeLappe said WRC is in the process of serving the papers to Stevens County and setting a trial date.
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff