CHELAN — A Chelan County judge on Wednesday agreed to order the removal of three man-made peninsulas created nearly 50 years ago in a bay on Lake Chelan’s south shore.
Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan found that the 6.12-acre undeveloped property owned by GBI Holding Co. impairs the public’s right to use the bay, and benefits only the owners of the property.
Rio Tinto, a mining company that is cleaning up the Holden Mine, had planned to use the property as a barge site. Whether the land can still be used as a barge site is still undetermined.
Chelan Basin Conservancy sued the owners and asked the court to order removal of the property after the city of Chelan agreed to allow the owners to divide it. The company never revealed plans for the property, although in 2010 it applied to the city for a development permit, then withdrew that request before applying to subdivide the land.
A fourth “finger” was removed following a court battle about 40 years ago.
In Wednesday’s decision, Allan wrote, “…It is undisputed that public access to the lake is impaired and the existence of the fill wholly obliterates the ability of the public to utilize that portion of the lake for navigation and recreation. The impairment can only be characterized as substantial and any benefit inures only to the defendant’s private interests.”
She asked the Conservancy to draw up an order for removal.
“It’s wonderful news,” said Tammy Lee Hauge, a conservancy member who claimed her rights were impaired. She said lake access is a big problem in Chelan, “and now it’s going to be restored. This is a huge victory for the people, the public access, and the community,” she said.
Kirk Bromiley, a Wenatchee attorney who represented GBI Holding, said he hasn’t had time to study the ruling. “I would be surprised if it weren’t appealed,” he said, but no decisions have been made.
The decision could have implications for other man-made peninsulas on Lake Chelan, and other waterways in Washington.
Bromiley said that he believes that the state Attorney General will have an interest in this case, and may join in the appeal. The state and city of Chelan were also named as defendants in the lawsuit, but no claims were made against them.
Russ Speidel, a Conservancy founder who also claimed his rights to use the bay were impaired, said he hopes the owners decide not to appeal. “We’re delighted with this decision, and we hope this ends it,” he said.
Speidel is a Wenatchee attorney whose law firm provided free legal work before the Conservancy hired David Mann, a well-known environmental lawyer in Seattle.
He said he’s hoping the city will stand by the decision, and support the Conservancy.
The next step is for the Conservancy to draw up an order and present it to the court.
Chelan City Planner Craig Gildroy said the language in that order will need to be carefully considered before he can predict how it will impact Chelan. “What the implications are have yet to be seen,” he said.
That includes whether Rio Tinto can use the site to barge in equipment and supplies to clean up the old Holden Mine. “The Holden Mine Cleanup is a three-year project, so it may have some implications, but we just don’t know at this point,” he said.
Chelan County Assessor Deanna Walter said the property’s assessed value dropped to $59,040 from $98,400 in the last few years because the value of other lakefront property in the area also dropped by 40 percent.
The assessed value is low because the property is in litigation, and could not be permitted for development.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512