Gateway: News

Russell Family Foundation aids Seabeck salmon effort, other Puget Sound environmental projects

The Gig Harbor-based Russell Family Foundation has announced $6 million in loans, grants and investments in South Puget Sound environmental and social projects.

The investments include a $250,000 loan guarantee to the environmental nonprofit Forterra for the purchase of a 297-acre property that formerly housed a University of Washington fishery research laboratory along the shores of Hood Canal near Seabeck.

The parcel, known as the Big Beef Creek property, is about four miles east of Bremerton, in a rural area popular for bird-watching. Forterra seeks to acquire the land to preserve salmon habitat.

The foundation also announced a $1.5 million loan to Forterra for the purchase and redevelopment of a former Rite-Aid store in Tacoma’s Hilltop that has become a focus of community efforts.

It also granted $150,000 to RAIN, a Tacoma non-profit that seeks to prepare students for careers in the biotech and life-sciences field, and $25,000 to Serra House, a Tacoma shelter for homeless teens.

The grants include $15,000 to help Pierce County Conservation District sponsor Orca Recovery Day, which was Oct. 19 this year.

Other grants went to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center ($15,000), Clean and Just Puget Sound ($75,000) and the Salish Sea Collective ($100,000.)

The grants and investments were announced Oct. 15.

“Collaboration is a critical element of effective, place-based change,” said Richard Woo, chief executive officer at TRFF, in a statement. “We are proud to support these groups and the power ideas that will effect social and environmental change on both large and small scales.”

Salmon habitat saved

The loan guarantee to Forterra will help the nonprofit get financing to purchase the Big Beef Creek property in a partnership with the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. Together, they are paying $3.33 million to the University of Washington for the acreage. The sale closed Oct. 15.

“It was important to keep this very important salmon habitat from going on the open market and being developed or logged,” said Jordan Rush, Forterra’s senior conservation director.

“Big Beef Creek is very good habitat for salmon spawning and refuge,” he explained. “it also has an estuary opening onto Hood Canal that provides critical habitat for shore birds, oysters, clams, birds of prey and other wildlife.”

The Russell loan guarantee is a backstop that will help Forterra put together a more permanent loan package while in the process of fundraising, he said.

The Russel foundation also announced a number of what it called “impact investments,” intended to ““maximize social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.”

The largest of these is a $3.75 million cash deposit with StoneCastle FICA, a commercial banking firm that distributes its interest-bearing deposits among banks and credit unions in financially under-served communities. The strategy shifts the foundation’s day-to-day banking from large institutional banks to a network of smaller banks and credit unions.

New CEO announced

Coincidentally, the Russell Family Foundation also announced the appointment of Kathleen Simpson as the organization’s interim CEO. She will succeed Woo, who is retiring in December.

Simpson has been the foundation’s chief financial officer. She is a certified public accountant who holds a master’s degree in business administration. She came to TRFF in 2015 from a position a director of finance for a wealth-management firm.

In an announcement on its website, TRFF said Simpson will become interim CEO on Jan. 1, 2020, while a search for a permanent chief executive continues.

The Russell Family Foundation was created in 1999 by Jane and George Russell, heirs of the Frank Russell Company, a Tacoma financial investment firm. It relocated to Gig Harbor from Seattle in 2001