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Bill would allow more deals like

NORTH BEND - U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn is hopeful a bill allowing the Evergreen Forest Trust to issue tax-exempt bonds for the purchase of 99,000 acres of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm will be passed by Congress this year, creating a "model" upon which future land conservation efforts can be based.

The bill, called the Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act, would change current law to grant organizations like the Evergreen Forest Trust the ability to harvest resources such as timber from lands to be preserved.

In the case of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm, timber sales would be used to pay off $185 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued for its purchase.

The proposed purchase-and-sale agreement between the Evergreen Forest Trust and Weyerhaeuser Co., which owns the tree farm, was announced earlier this year. The change in law is needed for the purchase to be finalized.

Dunn, a Republican serving the 8th District, introduced the Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act in the House of Representatives, while Sen. Patty Murray introduced the bill in the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee recently approved the Charity Aid Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2002, of which the Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act is a part.

At a meeting with constituents Monday, July 1, at the Mount Si Senior Center in North Bend, Dunn said she believed the full Senate would hold a vote on the bill this year, with it being included in a large omnibus bill before the end of the session. She added the bill has the support of the Bush administration.

"I've talked to the president's tax folks; they like it," Dunn said. And she will urge President Bush to visit the Snoqualmie Tree Farm, to be renamed the Evergreen Forest at Snoqualmie if the purchase goes through.

"I want him to see this. This is a great approach to the environment," Dunn said.

The congresswoman added once the Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act is approved, it would pave the way for other preservation efforts.

"It would become the model," Dunn said of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm deal.

In addition, there was good news for the 53 local ex-Weyerhaeuser employees who were laid off as a result of the proposed purchase and sale agreement.

Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher told Dunn the city has talked with The Campbell Group LLC, which would manage the Snoqualmie Tree Farm for the Evergreen Forest Trust, about the employees, and the company was open to hiring them for contract logging.

"There isn't anyone who knows those woods better than the ones who just walked out of them," Fletcher said.

The proposed Snoqualmie Tree Farm purchase was one of several issues addressed by Dunn at the meeting, chief among them Medicare, homeland security and the estate tax.

Dunn co-authored the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002 that was passed by the House on June 27. It creates a Medicare prescription drug benefit program for seniors beginning in 2005.

Seniors who enroll in the program pay a $33 monthly premium and $250 deductible, however, it would be waived for seniors with incomes of less than 150 percent of the poverty level and subsidized for seniors with incomes of up to 175 percent of the poverty level.

Seniors making more than that would pay 20 percent of the cost for drugs between $251 and $1,000, and 50 percent between $1,001 and $2,000.

If a senior's prescription drug costs exceed $3,700 a year, Medicare would 100 percent of the cost, no matter the senior's income level.

"Now that's very good coverage for someone who has catastrophic drug costs," Dunn said.

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