County timber revenue should hit $1.3 million
Officials discuss covid-19 issues, need for rural broadband
April 16, 2020
Wahkiakum County government should receive close to $1.3 million in revenue this year from the harvest of state-managed timber on county trust timberland, county officials learned Tuesday.
Padriac Callahan, St. Helens District manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, said market conditions had resulted in higher revenue than the $1 million which the agency had estimated last fall.
However, because of the covid-19 virus pandemic, markets are deteriorating, leaving future values unclear.
The report came Tuesday at the online meeting of the Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners.
Also Tuesday, commissioners joined an online roundtable discussion hosted by the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Council of Governments. Discussion there ranged from a report on the state legislature to the need for expansion of internet broadband service in Wahkiakum County and other rural areas.
The county's 2020 timber revenue will come from a sale called Powder House Sorts. Callahan said the sale is active now, harvest two thirds completed and 50 percent of its revenue collected.
A sale planned for 2021, Irish Coffee Sorts, is estimated to generate $865,713 for the county, and a sale planned for 2022, Elochomotive Sorts, is estimated to generate $1.3 million.
However, with the economy facing a pandemic-generated recession, nothing seems certain. Restrictions on human-to-human contact have cut back on construction, which cuts back on demand for lumber and other wood products.
"Mill inventory is getting flush," Callahan said. "Lumber isn't being sold at the same rate as harvest brings logs in. Some mills are starting to have rolling blackouts."
Commissioner Dan Cothren, Hancock Forest Products' forest security manager, agreed.
"It's going to be a hard one for next year," he said. "These prices--I'm kind of worried about that."
The Wahkiakum County Health Department is continuing its efforts to deal with the covid-19 pandemic, county Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said during the roundtable.
The county has two confirmed cases, he said, no change over the past week.
The social distancing/stay-at-home restrictions are helping flatten the rate of illness in the state, Bischoff said. Governors of west coast states are discussing how they'd make a coordinated decision to reduce the restrictions and allow people to get back to work.
"There's still a lot of danger out there," Bischoff said. "We're 9-12 months away from having a vaccine. Any return to normal won't look like normal."
(Please see separate article in this edition about local covid-19 testing. --Ed.)
State government responds
The Washington State Legislature included funding for covid-19 response in the recently passed budget, Senator Dean Takko, D-19, said during the round table.
Initially, there was a $2 million appropriation for virus response and another billion in support programs, and with a two-thirds majority vote, the legislature could appropriate money from the $3.5 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, which is only to be used in emergencies.
"This won't come close to solving our problems," he said. "Nobody had any idea of how bad it would be.
"Gov. Jay Inslee did a good job of vetoing items from the budget to reduce spending," Takko commented. Inslee vetoed some appropriations which Takko supported, but the senator said everyone lost expenditures, and the goal of freeing money for covid-19 response is worth it.
The adverse covid-19 impact on the economy will affect state revenues. The legislature will face a tremendous challenge next session to deal with loss of gasoline tax revenue for the Transportation Budget, and the legislature is waiting for resolution of a court case challenging the initiative to lower vehicle license fees.
Takko added that he and other Democrat senators have written to Inslee to ask him to allow construction on single-family and other housing to resume.
Broadband internet funding sought
Takko and other officials agreed that the pandemic crisis shows the need for funding of expanded high speed, broadband internet access in the county and other rural areas of the state.
"I think the virus has highlighted our need for rural broadband," said Wahkiakum PUD Commissioner Gene Healy, a member of a committee trying to expand broadband county wide.
Sen. Takko agreed, pointing to difficulties students have accessing their studies from home computers.
"It just reinforces what we already knew," Takko said.
Poor internet service is impeding the work-at-home efforts of Health and Human Services employees and their clients, Bischoff said.
"Almost daily, that comes to our attention," he said.
"I saw, on Facebook, where a student had to sit in a car in the high school parking lot to connect to wifi," Healy said. "I think, that as a society, we're better than that."
Officials: Resume hunting, fishing
Commissioners also said they would like to see the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife allow fishing and hunting this year.
The department ordered some spring seasons closed earlier this month and is considering closures of other seasons later this year.
Commissioners said they would draft a letter for signature next week to request the opening of the seasons.