The city of Camas has agreed to purchase about 87 acres of land north of Lacamas Lake, capping off a 30-year conservation project that could turn the lake into a significant regional recreation attraction.
The city council unanimously approved the purchase of two land parcels, valued at a total of $17 million, at its meeting Monday. Part of the city’s Legacy Lands program, the purchases made way for a trail network on 880 acres of land around the lake.
Project leaders have also eyed the area for lake access points, historical features and other recreation areas. One highlight of the purchase is the Pittock-Leadbetter House, built in 1901 by former Oregonian newspaper owner Henry L. Pittock.
City officials expect Northeast Leadbetter Road adjacent to the lake to permanently close to vehicular traffic. Ideas for the vacated road include a bike and pedestrian trail along the water, additional parking and a trailhead with restrooms.
For years, the city has worked with Clark County, Columbia Land Trust and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to conserve land north of the lake, where development is expected to spike.
“This is a great project that has been in the works for years, and it’s been part of our vision,” City Councilor Melissa Smith said. “I’m just grateful that we have this opportunity even though, you know, times are different.”
The state Attorney General’s Office released guidelines on March 26 saying that public meeting agendas must only concern matters that are “necessary and routine” during the statewide stay-at-home order. Those include decisions that avoid financial consequences.
The city signed initial sales paperwork in early March. City officials say finalization of the agreements couldn’t be postponed without financial penalties or the possibility of losing the properties.
The city had already paid $200,000 before Monday’s vote as part of the initial payments. Funds for the project come from real estate excise taxes, park impact fees and grants, including a $2.5 million grant from the county’s Conservation Futures program.
“This is a historical event, and I know that some people are opposed to it adamantly, but I also know that, sometimes, that’s when history is made at its best. It’s not that we’re disregarding that advice, but I think this is really an important opportunity that we ought not miss,” City Councilor Don Chaney said. “We’re taking this action because it’s a necessary and routine issue based on relevant authorities and the facts that we know today.”
The guidelines also recommend that “controversial matters” and items of “high public interest” not be discussed during the outbreak.
At the council’s virtual meeting Monday, several residents participated in public comment. Most commenters were in favor of the purchases.
“Twenty years from now, no one will ever criticize anybody for what you’ve done on the north side of the lake for the public and not the private people,” Camas resident Kimbal Logan said.
Others took issue with agreements being finalized as the scope of economic consequences due to COVID-19 remain uncertain.
“You’re all on the record for this moment, and it, again, seems to lack any examination of the reality of today,” Camas resident Phil Williams said. “You’re talking about a matter for another day.”
Questions about the legacy lands program can be directed to 360-834-6864 or firstname.lastname@example.org.