Officials gather to celebrate historic deal

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SNOQUALMIE - A group of government, business and environmental officials gathered at the Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie earlier this week to celebrate what each said was a historic deal.

The Snoqualmie Preservation Initiative (SPI), which preserved land around Snoqualmie Falls from development, has been praised by public and private organizations alike since it was signed back in 2001. At the time, there were plans to develop the land around the Falls, but an agreement was reached that has preserved the land as public open space, ensuring that the view from the observation deck will always face tree-covered hills.

"This is critically important to the Valley. We will have this viewshed preserved and will have preserved thousands of acres in the Raging River and hundred of acres critical to different trail systems," said Cascade Land Conservancy President Gene Duvernoy.

The deal was brokered after Puget Western, a subsidiary of Puget Sound Energy that had planned a development called Falls Crossing, agreed to sell 150 acres of land around Snoqualmie Falls to Snoqualmie and Snoqualmie Ridge developer Quadrant for $13.3 million. Under the agreement, Quadrant's parent company, Weyerhaeuser, also agreed to preserve 9,000 acres of land south of Interstate 90.

Finalizing the plans for the second phase of the Snoqualmie Ridge development, which was approved earlier this year, was the last step in completing the deal.

"It reflects normally strange bed fellows getting together to create a legacy, not only for old Snoqualmie but new Snoqualmie," said Quadrant President Peter Orser.

Each speaker praised the other's ability to work together and commented on how they complimented the mission each organization has.

"Peter [Orser] builds communities, we create conservation. They don't have to be polar opposites," Duvernoy said. "I don't want to call that a strange bedfellow, I want to call that a productive partnership for the region."

The impact of the agreement on the Snoqualmie Tribe, who regard the Snoqualmie Falls as a sacred site that is central to their creation story, was brought up often by the organizations.

"Not only is it good for the area, good for the region, good for tourism, good for all that stuff, but it's also good for the Snoqualmie Tribe," said Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher. "This is considered a spiritual place for them and I don't want that to be forgotten."

All of those involved said they would like to see similar projects in the future, adding that such partnerships between governments and developers could go a long way in preserving other natural wonders.

"Regionally, what we are doing is paving the way for how these kinds of transactions can be accomplished so you can have great conservation and great community," Duvernoy said. "This has a great precedent."

King County Executive Ron Sims said there may be a place for smaller landowners to achieve something similar with conservation groups and governments. While a similar agreement would have been impossible with hundreds of different landowners, Sims said smaller groups could organize together in order to both preserve and develop their land.

"In this case, having a larger landowner, you just had some incredible efficiencies that could be achieved," Sims said. "There is potential for smaller landowners who organize themselves so there is one voice instead 90 or 100 or 120 voices."

Sims, who stressed the word "forever" when talking about how long the land would be preserved, said it may take awhile for people to realize how important the SPI agreement is.

"I don't think people appreciate it yet," he said. "They will appreciate it, probably, in two or three generations when people say, 'How did they protect this corridor?'"

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