Exemption sought on Steptoe Butte
January 21, 2021
STEPTOE - A private nature preserve may be sold to the state after a meeting to determine if communications towers fees can be used for weed control.
Steptoe Butte native prairie land bought in 2016 by private owners spans a wide C-shape at the base of the butte. Only about a quarter of Steptoe Butte is the state park – mainly its north side and top.
The weed control issue will be heard Jan. 26, as part of a meeting of the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board. The 437-acre land parcel at the butte has been slated for purchase by either the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or State Parks.
DNR and the current landowners seek to keep the lease proceeds from the towers focused on weed control at the butte site.
"We are asking for support in that effort from the public and organizations that deem it an appropriate request," said Joan Folwell, one of the landowners.
To keep the lease funding to pay for weed-control would need to be approved by the state Legislature in its budget. Any income drawn from DNR or state parks land is, by policy, put in a pot for all properties.
"It seems like a steady source of funding is way better than an unsteady source," said Kent Bassett, another of the landowners. "It's in everybody's best interest to have this work."
The land has undergone three appraisals, one with all elements included, one with the towers separated and one including the towers, but with the regular lease funds policy in place.
DNR and State Parks earlier jointly applied for a grant and received $1.2 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program to make the purchase at Steptoe Butte.
"We feel good about this project," said Brock Milliern, Division Manager, Conservation Recreation and Transactions for DNR. "We'll keep the project going if the policy waivers don't go forward. There will be a way to steward this land."
If a sale is made, it is not yet decided whether DNR or state parks would be the agency responsible for it.
Folwell co-owns the land with husband Ray, along with Bassett, a Bellevue ophthalmologist from Pullman. He made the purchase along with his late wife, Elaine.
For the past three years, Bassett and the Folwells have used the lease fees from the towers to pay for weed control work done by BFI Native Seeds, of Moses Lake. The company also made a local weed inventory.
Members of the public may participate in the Jan. 26 virtual meeting, at 9 a.m., by going to rco.wa.gov. A link for public comment is also on the site.
Since Bassett and the Folwells bought the land, they have looked into options for a buyer who fits their intentions to preserve it as native prairie, and to recoup their $638,000 investment.
The purchase followed a process in which Bassett sought a land trust that might have bought it.
"We are approaching the endgame," Bassett said. "We are short-timers, placekeepers until we get it back in public domain."