Due to the proximity to Camas City Hall and the expansion of new employees in the coming year, the City Council members recently approved an agreement for the purchase of the former “Bank of America building” located downtown for $1.6 million. The Camas City Administrator Pete Capell stated that the $1.6 million, plus the money for renovation, is far less expensive than building a new city hall. To fund the property purchase and the required renovations, the city is using $1 million from bonds and up to $1 million from the city’s real estate excise taxes (REET).
The city also entered into an agreement to purchase the historic, ‘Mills property’ on the north shore of Lacamas Lake. The paper mill has a 134-year old history and has left many hallmarks in Camas, Washington. The Camas paper mill has declined this year due to layoffs from the declining market of communication papers. The mill employed around 2,400 people during the 1980s and has now cut between 280-300 jobs with only 120-140 remaining. The mill’s declining water use, in addition to the recent shutdowns, means that the dams and other properties are not needed by the mill.
A report from the city staff said that the mill officials stated if the city wasn’t interested in the property, they would have looked for another organization who would take ownership of it, using an effective real estate marketing strategy that is sure to get them potential buyers. They’ve also been juggling with the idea of possibility opening the dam gates to lower the water level of the lake and afterwards demolish the dams. The dams help maintain the water level at Round Lake which is a recreation hotspot in the Camas area.
Georgia-Pacific will give $10,000 to the city to replace the wooden gates on the dams, which was built by the mill owners back in 1883. Before the agreement, the city had the dams inspected by engineers and found that it was in good shape. City officials ideally want to build a floating bridge over Round Lake to connect the two sides of the trail as well as fill in the mill ditch and build a wider trail. The dams and ditch area is the first land donation given to the city by the mill since the layoffs.
The Mills family discounted the property’s value down to $2.5 million which includes the historic Pittock Leadbetter House, a 2.5-story, 3,700-square-foot Queen Anne style home built in 1901. The property has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as on the Washington Heritage Register since 1979. Even though Pittock Leadbetter House is currently being used as a residence, the city could decide to use the property to host special events in the future such as weddings.
There is no set date on when Camas residents can see the finished Lacamas Lake trail system, but it is expected to take 2-3 years to finalize the land acquisitions and probably another 2 years to build the trail system. Because of the wetlands and creeks, the city need to obtain proper environmental permits, build sections of boardwalks, and pedestrian bridges. The city leaders also hopes to add some amenities to the land such as picnic tables, trailheads, water-access sites, fishing piers, public restrooms, benches, and a playground equipment for the kids. There also have been discussion of other mill properties, including Camas Business Center which is a couple of large white buildings with parking lot on NW 7th Ave.
The land purchases are part of Clark County’s 33-year-old Legacy Lands program. According to Clark County’s official website, “The Legacy Lands program (Clark County’s Conservation Futures Program) protects these lands highly valued for habitat, scenic corridors, low-impact recreation and other qualities that enhance our local environment.”. In November 2017, the Board of County Councilors authorized issued $7 million in bonds to buy 10 properties spread throughout the county. This includes an infusion of $4.8 million ($2.58 million from Legacy Lands grant which will cover 70% of the cost, $1.5 million matching from the city, and $700,000 in donated land) from Clark County to help preserve 100 acres of natural space near the northern edges of Lacamas Lake, increase the 880-acre Lacamas Corridor park and greenway system by about 100 acres, and protect the land from future development.
The citywill eventually eliminate Leadbetter Road and use the existing road as part of a trail system that will loop around Lacamas Lake. The city has already owned some of the property for conservation which includes 48 acres from Georgia-Pacific that they acquired back in 2008 and secured lands owned by private individuals (Clark County and the Camas Washougal Wildlife League). The land was gifted to the city in exchange for the cost of cleaning the land that was polluted by lead from the League’s shooting range.