98-acre purchase completes Japanese Gulch preservation goal
MUKILTEO - Mukilteo leaders are cheering after the city finalized securing the remaining 98 acres of privately held land in Japanese Gulch.
A purchase and sale agreement for $5.4 million was announced late last month. All that appears to be left is some final paperwork.
Mukilteo will pay for the property with $4.5 million in government grants and will backfill the remaining $900,000 with existing park acquisition funds and real estate excise tax money. The Mukilteo City Council has yet to determine how those funds will be split.
The transfer should happen no later than March, Forterra vice president Michelle Connor said last week. Forterra is a land conservation nonprofit that hired by the city to assist in negotiations.
Acquiring the biggest piece of Japanese Gulch closes the book on a grassroots dream that started nine years ago to turn the entire 160-acre gulch into public land.
The homegrown Japanese Gulch Group has made a lot of progress since 2005 when a small group of residents started meeting around a kitchen table to discuss preserving the gulch.
At the time, developers threatened to turn the forest into an industrial park.
“We said, ‘We can’t let (the gulch) get cut down’,” group co-founder Debby McGehee told this paper in 2011.
And last week, current group president Arnie Hammerman called the deal a “fantastic accomplishment” for the region.
“It’s incredible — I was walking through Japanese Gulch today, marveling about how beautiful it is,” Hammerman said Dec. 30. “Now we don’t have to worry it will be bulldozed.”
The group and the city aligned to buy what was called the Precht property in 2008. The city added more of the gulch in 2010 when it acquired 17 acres on the north side.
The last 98 acres, though, was being held by a bankruptcy court representing the Metropolitan Creditors Trust made up of debtors to the Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities Co., which was one of the largest business failures in the Spokane area after its $2.3 billion collapse 10 years ago.
Hammerman said the Japanese Gulch Group will continue building trails and working on preserving the gulch. It will also continue to work with the city.
He doesn’t know when the bankruptcy court’s “No Trespassing” signs will come down, but most hikers and bicyclists from across Snohomish County who already use this part of the gulch ignored the signs anyway.
There are currently 2.6 miles of trails on the publicly owned pieces of the gulch and approximately five miles of informal trails on the property being acquired. The trail system could be eventually expanded to eight miles and connect to the waterfront.
“I am so proud that we are able to ensure the preservation of Japanese Gulch,” outgoing Mayor Joe Marine said in a Forterra release. “This has been a priority for my administration and for the outgoing City Council over many years.”
Running up to the Dec. 27 announcement, Marine told this paper he wasn’t certain the deal would be done by Jan. 1.
The city’s efforts ramped up last year after it secured two grants. Snohomish County gave Mukilteo a $2.5 million land preservation grant and the state awarded the city $1 million toward Japanese Gulch.
Flush with cash, city leaders began negotiations with the bankruptcy court.
The grants came a year after a ballot measure to collect $3.2 million for the gulch through a property tax levy increase failed. A majority of 58 percent voted in favor of the tax, but the tally didn’t meet the 60 percent supermajority required threshold.
Japanese Gulch is located at the northeastern corner of the Mukilteo city limits and is bisected by Mukilteo Boulevard.
Nearly two miles of Japanese Gulch Creek provide habitat for coho salmon and cutthroat trout through fish culverts that lead to Puget Sound.
The gulch got its name a century ago when the Mukilteo Lumber Company set up camp there. Most of the workers were Japanese immigrants.
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