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Lawmakers, Locals Tout Practical Aspects of Wild Olympics Bill

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PHOTO: People who shared their reasons for supporting Wild Olympics legislation with reporters on Thursday included, from left, Michelle Sandoval (Port Townsend), Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Derek Kilmer, Tim McNulty (Sequim), and Bill Taylor (Shelton). Photo credit: Thomas O'Keefe.
PHOTO: People who shared their reasons for supporting Wild Olympics legislation with reporters on Thursday included, from left, Michelle Sandoval (Port Townsend), Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Derek Kilmer, Tim McNulty (Sequim), and Bill Taylor (Shelton). Photo credit: Thomas O'Keefe.
August 22, 2014

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. - A push to add new wilderness acreage to Olympic National Forest gained some momentum Thursday, as members of Congress invited supporters and reporters to the area for an update on the legislation.

The "Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act" lost some steam when its original sponsor, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, retired. Now Rep. Derek Kilmer and Sen. Patty Murray, both D-Wash., say it's time to move it forward again.

Port Townsend city councilwoman Michelle Sandoval said adding new protections for 126,000 acres and parts of 19 rivers are important for the area's future.

"As a Realtor, I can tell you that it is our incredible quality of life that attracts prospective new home buyers," she said. "We should and we can do much to protect and promote these natural treasures, and the Wild Olympics legislation will do both."

Sandoval said the area to be protected is in the watershed that provides Port Townsend's drinking water. She and other speakers at Thursday's event said the practical combination of clean, safe water and more tourism and recreation should spark renewed interest in the legislation.

Water quality also is a chief concern for Bill Taylor, vice president of Taylor Shellfish. As part of the state's $270 million shellfish industry, he said the water upstream from the beds where they are grown has to be clean, cold and plentiful.

"That really is one of the critical things in protecting water quality for shellfish," he said. "We face many other challenges, but it's one less challenge we have to worry about. So yeah, having good water quality is absolutely critical to our success."

The current Wild Olympics bill was hammered out in a three-year public process. It still has detractors, who want more timber harvest on that land and fewer protections in Olympic National Forest. Its supporters say it won't negatively affect the timber industry in the region or limit public access to the land.

The legislation is S 1949 and HR 3922.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA