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KITTITAS COUNTY — Kittitas County commissioners are calling for citizens to help examine the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project.

Commissioners specifically have concerns about a habitat and ecosystem restoration and enhancement proposal that is part of the 20-year, $5 billion plan.

The proposal, in part, calls for government agencies to purchase more than 71,000 acres of private forest, shrub-steppe and other rural lands for long-term protection and improvement. Most of the land is within Kittitas County.

Commissioner Chairman Paul Jewell said a citizen committee will be asked to scrutinize the impact of the land acquisition.

This may include the impact on tourism, recreation, land availability for rural development, loss of property tax revenue for local governments, public access to public lands and others.

Wide number of viewpoints

"We are looking for people in the county that reflect the widest possible number of viewpoints," Jewell said. "We want a well-rounded citizens group; we also want those who have opposing viewpoints."

The county is negotiating with a consulting environmental-engineering firm that will work with the committee. Funding for the consultant will be shared between the county and the state Department of Ecology.

Commissioners, in past comments, have called for some kind of mitigation that would compensate Kittitas County for the negative impacts from the loss of the private lands. They contend the purchase of the private lands to implement the water plan would greatly benefit other areas of the three-county Yakima River Basin, with Kittitas County getting fewer benefits.

Commissioners would like to receive committee comments and conclusions by January or February 2012 to guide them in formally submitting concerns to the water plan's overall environmental impact study.

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