(COLIN HAFFNER/Chewelah Independent)
Senator discusses A-to-Z project with local leaders…
“Chewelah is a jewel,” Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell said at the end of a roundtable discussion in Chewelah on Tuesday.
Senator Cantwell made the trip to Chewelah on Tuesday to join in the discussion with nearly two dozen local and state leaders to explore a potential Chewelah based A to Z model.
Duane and Russ Vaagen of Vaagen Bros. Lumber in Colville, the company undertaking the initial A-to- Z project in the Colville National Forest, joined Sen. Cantwell and representatives of conservation groups, Colville National Forest, local businesses, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, among others, to look at what bringing A-to-Z to Chewelah could mean.
A-to-Z is a project that allows for the process of timber sale and restoration of forested land in acreage run by the Forest Service to be contracted by a private entity. The moniker A -to-Z reflects the process being run from start to finish by that private entity.
In general, projects run by the Forest Service may not be sold until an environmental analysis has been done according to the National Environmental Policy Act.
However, the Forest Service does not always have the staffing or budget to complete large-scale projects where that private company would.
In the case of the 54,000 acre Mill Creek Project in the Colville National Forest, Vaagen Bros. Lumber was selected to carry out the collaborative process of controlled burns, road maintenance and selective logging that can help reduce the risk of fire danger and keep the land viable.
Tuesday’s meeting was about starting a second A-to-Z project in the Chewelah area, called Chewelah A-to-Z that would encompass roughly 20,000 more acres than the Mill Creek Project in the Colville National Forest just east of Chewelah.
That puts the area at close to 80,000 total acres, and it will include more industrial, private, and state lands than the Mill Creek A-to-Z.
Chewelah was chosen as the potential second location from seven different locations.
The project is meant to add value to the area as a viable source for building the economy and involve the community through a focus on recreation,especially new or improved trail systems.
Although details were scarce as the project is still in early planning stages, the recreation component was a major point throughout the discussion and was touted as one aspect that makes the Chewelah A-to-Z different from Mill Creek.
John Eminger, owner of 49 Degress North, voiced both excitement and reservation about the role A-to-Z could play in helping with recreation, wondering if it could be funded through timber sales.
In all, it was said that the Chewelah A to Z could generate millions of dollars, paying for recreation, tourism and roads, while also working to mitigate fire danger.
“We’ve been positioning ourselves for this for four years,” Chewelah Mayor Dorothy Knauss said during the discussion about the city’s work to prepare for the increases in tourism that the A to Z project and other ventures could bring.
The outdoor recreation industry is the third largest grossing industry in the country, Senator Cantwell said, netting more than $800 billion nationally and $26.2 billion in Washington State alone.
Those numbers could fuel the important role recreation could factor in to the project.
Knauss mentioned the recent effort by the Spokane Tribe for a 72-unit hotel in Chewelah near the Chewelah Casino, noting that there is currently very little overnight lodging in the city for visitors coming to enjoy what Chewelah has to offer
There was added discussion about how that recreation model would work, whether the model can be incorporated into the A-to-Z project as opposed to building a plan as part of the project.
Beyond recreation, the project also focuses on long-term care and fire management, a major concern with multiple major fires causing damage in recent years.
The project calls for a 20-year plan that would maintain roads and help to mitigate fire danger through selectively clearing timber where it is thick and dying, two factors that can fuel major fires.
Mayor Knauss pointed this fact out as she thanked Senator Cantwell for her recent speech in regard to addressing wildfires, where the Senator mentioned the Chewelah A-to-Z project and talked about its role in potentially reducing fuels for fires as a model for national use.
Those involved in the project hope to get bids out and begin work starting in Spring, 2019.