DNR approves Thun Field land exchange

The State Board of Natural Resources yesterday unanimously approved a land exchange involving about 320 acres of Common School trust land in Pierce County to be traded for 1.74 acres of commercial property in Des Moines, King County. The Board also approved an exchange of a 40-acre parcel of Common School trust lands for an adjacent 40-acre parcel of private lands in Stevens County. Both exchanges involve trading properties of equal value.

“Trust land transactions like these are a part of our investment in our children’s future education,” said Doug Sutherland, Commissioner of Public Lands. “Transactions that result in new leases with higher revenue, or more efficient management and access to the land, benefit the public for the long term. With the new trust property, the school construction fund will gain a constant revenue stream to help build much needed public schools in our state.”

Prior to the exchange, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) managed the 320 acres in Pierce County in the area known as Thun Field, located east of Emerald Ridge High School. The parcels – one about 280 acres and the other, 40 acres – are in Pierce County’s urban growth area. A creek runs west to east through the extreme southern portion of the smaller parcel. Both parcels have a steep drop-off towards the southeast. Isolated from other state trust lands, the Thun Field parcels no longer have a market for timber management purposes, and they have not been generating money for the trust in recent years. The trust acres had been identified by the Legislature in 1984 as ‘transition lands’ to be sold or exchanged for lands more suited to management for the trust.

At their last meeting on January 3, the Board directed DNR to continue government-to-government discussions with the Puyallup Tribe. The tribe had voiced concerns regarding potential cultural resources on the site, the health of the Puyallup watershed and dwindling open space, and the health of a creek that flows across the Thun Field property in Pierce County.

DNR’s archeologist visited the Thun Field parcels, met with the tribe about their concerns, wrote a report to the Board, and addressed all the tribe’s questions about possible archeological and cultural resource sites on the property.

“We needed to continue our talks with the Puyallup Tribe and listen to their concerns,” said Sutherland. “The tribe has now said that we have addressed their concerns related to the exchange. We will continue to work closely with them in the future to resolve questions early in the process.”

The commercial property involved in the Thun Field exchange is located at the intersection of Highway 99 and Des Moines-Kent Road, along the west side of Highway 99. A Walgreen drugstore will be fully operational there in the next few months and is anticipated to generate $481,500 in annual lease revenue to help build kindergarten through 12th grade public schools. Acquiring a property in Des Moines on a long-term lease will offer better-than-average market returns.

A public hearing was held on Nov. 29 at Emerald Ridge High School to take public comments and ideas about the proposed exchange. A summary of that testimony was provided for the Board of Natural Resources.

DNR manages about 3 million acres of state-owned forest, agricultural lands and commercial properties for long-term benefits to current and future trust beneficiaries and other residents of the state. Since 1970, management of trust lands has produced more than $6 billion in revenue, reducing the need for taxes to pay for public projects and services.

State-owned trust lands are to be managed to produce income to build schools, universities, prisons, state mental hospitals, community colleges, and help fund local services in many counties and the state general fund. Trust lands provide habitat for myriad native plants and animals, and provide recreational and educational opportunities to more than 9 million people each year.