Politics & Government

Funding secured for prime farm acreage in Puyallup River Valley

Pierce County has secured the final funding piece it needs to preserve 154 acres of farmland in the Puyallup River Valley and complete the largest farmland conservation project in the county’s history.

The county plans to spend about $1.9 million to conserve Matlock Farm in the Alderton-McMillin area.

Brothers Ivan and Dave Matlock own the farm and grew strawberries and raspberries on it from the mid-1950s until 1987. They then ran a seedling nursery on their land until retiring in 1996.

The Matlocks lease the land to farmer Tom Duris, who grows strawberries, bush beans and cucumbers.

The county would acquire a conservation easement and the development rights for 124 acres, restricting its use to farming or open space. The county would eventually resell those rights to a developer who could use them on a piece of land elsewhere, said Hans Hunger, a county public works manager. The money then would be used to preserve more farmland in the county.

The county also would purchase 30 acres of floodplain habitat and other land adjacent to the Puyallup River and nearby Ball Creek. It plans to remove several fish-passage barriers along Ball Creek, a salmon-bearing stream that flows through the property.

For the deal to be complete, one or more farmers must agree to buy the 124 acres at a discounted price of about $1.1 million, subject to an appraisal.

“This is a marvelous opportunity for the county and young people that might want to farm,” said Ivan Matlock, 80, who owns the farm with his brother, Dave.

The area’s zoning would permit 16 houses to be built. But the Matlocks and the county want to preserve the land and its rich, rock-free soil for farming.

Forterra, a conservation group, is negotiating with farmers and putting together the project with the county.

“Protecting this property is good for farmers, fish and Pierce County’s rural character,” County Executive Pat McCarthy said in a recent statement.

In placing a conservation easement on 124 acres and buying the 30 acres, the county would pay about 60 percent of the land’s value.

Farmers then could purchase the 124 acres for use as a working farm, paying about 40 percent of the $3 million combined purchase price. The land is being offered at a significant discount because buyers would be limited in how they could use it.

Jordan Rash, a Forterra conservation director, is negotiating with farmers and expects the complex deal to be completed by September.

“There’s actually a good amount of work to do,” Rash said. “But the funding is all in place.”

Last month, the state Department of Ecology announced a $525,000 grant for the project. Other funding is $1.1 million from the county’s Conservation Futures program and $300,000 from the county’s surface water management division.

Without the county’s resources reducing the price, farmers wouldn’t be able to afford the 124 acres, said Ivan Matlock, who lives in Gig Harbor. His 83-year-old brother, Dave, lives in what was their parents’ house adjacent to the farm.

Ivan Matlock said he and his brother worked hard to pay for the land.

“We feel we should be rewarded for the long-term investment in the property.” Ivan Matlock said. “If agriculture can continue because of this maneuver, I really think everybody wins.”