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March 18, 2010 at 1:25 PM

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion finally near?

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- A bill to expand Alpine Lakes Wilderness east of Seattle cleared the U.S. House by voice vote Thursday, bringing the conservation plan tangibly close to fruition nearly three years after Rep. Dave Reichert first proposed it.

The measure would grow the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area by 22,000 acres as well as designate the Pratt River and the 27-mile middle fork of the Snoqualmie River as wild and scenic. Such status would enable the federal government to work with local authorities and land owners to protect the corridors along the rivers' banks from development.

A stretch of lowlands along Interstate 90 would become part of the 394,000-area Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, expanding what is already a popular recreational destination for Seattleites.

A companion version of the same bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, is wending its way thorough the Senate.

Reichert , R-Auburn, first pledged to preserve the wilderness area in August 2007. He introduced legislation in November of that year, but the bill died in 2008 after Congress ran out of time.

The bill has six Democrats as co-sponsors, including Reps. Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, Adam Smith of Tacoma, Jim McDermott of Seattle and Brian Baird of Vancouver.

Reichert recalled seeing junked cars and other debris when he used to patrol the area as King County sheriff. If the measure becomes law, Reichert said, it would forever preserve the land and waterways as places for his grandchildren and others to appreciate nature.

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