Our Voice: Kennewick's land use plan doesn't need intervention

May 8, 2014 

A Seattle-based land advocacy group doesn't want to see some marginal farmland developed into something more valuable for our community.

While we'd like to just tell Futurewise to spend its efforts on worthwhile land fights and leave us alone, the group has filed a formal appeal to reverse a decision by the Benton County commissioners to expand Kennewick's urban growth area. So now we're stuck, awaiting a decision from the Growth Management Hearings Board.

At issue is 1,263 acres south of Interstate 82 and west of Highway 395. The farmer who owns the majority of the land said that it is no longer worth farming. Most of the land has been put into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, where owners are paid for land taken out of farm production. But most of the land will come out of that program by the end of the year, and no one has any plans to farm it again.

So a longtime farmer here said his land can't produce enough to make it worth planting a crop. But a planning and law director from Futurewise claims the land meets the criteria for agricultural lands of long-term significance and should be kept in agriculture. Who do you think knows more about farming in the Mid-Columbia?

Perhaps Tim Trohimivich of Futurewise should spend his money to see what he could grow on the land. Maybe that would help him understand the economics of farming in this region.

We agree with Kennewick Mayor Steve Young, who said that Futurewise, which touts itself as a statewide organization, does not understand Eastern Washington. "This is land that is just sitting here," Young said. "There are no crops. There is no farming. This is another move by Futurewise to prevent cities from growing and creating a future."

Trohimivich's response was that land does not have to have irrigation to be considered valuable farmland. True, but it sure helps. He suggested dry land farming or bringing water to the land, again making it clear that he doesn't understand the economics of agriculture.

Futurewise said the city of Kennewick has plenty of vacant land for industrial development in its existing boundaries. But he clearly hasn't looked at the parcels. Some of the land zoned for industrial development is next to homes, while other parcels are on steep slopes or lack the necessary access and infrastructure.

Futurewise is asking the hearings board to overturn the county commissioners' decision and rule that the urban growth area expansion violates the state Growth Management Act. The pedigrees of the folks who work for Futurewise include a lot of GMA experience, particularly in urban areas, so they know the act. But they don't know much about Eastern Washington, though the advocacy group is increasingly taking on land issues on this side of the state.

Looking at a Google map or statistics on acreage from a desk in a Seattle office building does not equate to living in a community and understanding the lay of the actual land in Kennewick -- or to understanding the principles of farming or the fact that farmers need to make a living from their land, not just grow crops because it's prettier than most industrial uses.

Futurewise's mantra is "to protect Washington's farms, forests and open space while keeping our communities great places to live." They should look at their credo and take it to heart.

In this instance, what will make Kennewick an even greater place to live would be the economic development that would come with expanding the city's urban growth area to some unused land south of town that happened to have once been farmed.

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