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Columbia River Islanders Take Case to the Feds

July 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A view of Crescent Bar Island in the Columbia River.

A view of Crescent Bar Island in the Columbia River.

Crescent Bar Island leaseholders, who live on an island in the Columbia River in central Washington state, have asked federal dam regulators to stop the Grant County PUD from evicting them when their current leases expire in 2012.

Two associations, one representing 110 island condominium owners and the other 253 island RV homeowners, each filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on June 25, the Wenatchee World reported.

Both motions ask the hydropower authority to reject a revised Grant County PUD land-management plan that would oblige the leaseholders to leave the island when their leases expire.

The PUD owns Crescent Bar Island as part of the lands associated with its Columbia River dams, Priest Rapids and Wanapum. The land plan is a requirement of the utility’s federal dam license.

The islanders own their condos and RV homes, but lease the PUD-owned land underneath them.

In both motions, the islanders ask the feds to reject the PUD’s proposed change to its land-use plan.

In their motions, the islanders claims include:

  • The revised land plan is “inconsistent” with the dam license and federal law, because the plan’s change was sudden, lacked enough time for public comment and wasn’t accompanied by an environmental study of the impact to the island of removing the condos and RV homes.
  • That PUD officials did an “about face” by assuring the islanders that they would receive new leases once the utility received its new federal dam license. A new 44-year license was issued in 2008. To support this claim, the islanders point to an earlier draft of the dams’ land-use plan that let the islanders stay and balanced existing private use of Crescent Bar with federal calls for additional public use.
  • The dam license does allow existing private residential use of the public island, but not additional or expanded private use.
  • Islanders, through their lease payments, cover the maintenance costs of the island so Grant County PUD ratepayers don’t have to.

Wenatchee attorney Lewis Card represents the RV owners. Bellingham attorney Mark Quehrn represents the condo owners. Each attorney prepared the motion for his respective group of clients.

Large passages of both motions are identical. They differ, in part, in their implications over who is responsible for island problems that have been identified by PUD staffers and Grant County officials. The problems include an overworked island sewer system during busy summer tourism months and overcrowding.

Owners of the condos — permanent buildings constructed on-site between 1978 and 1985 — say in their motion that the majority of island health and safety issues raised by Grant County PUD “relate to the density and services provided to other users.”

The only other private residential users on the island are the RV homeowners, whose arrival predated condo construction.

The RV association’s motion, by contrast, reads “The Association was the first residential development on the island and many of the health and safety issued raised by GCPUD … relate to density and services created when subsequent recreational developments were allowed on the island.”

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said by phone from Washington, D.C., Thursday that the FERC commission has 30 days to respond to the leaseholders’ motions, but can request more time if needed.

FERC commissioners may grant, modify or reject the motions, but the timeline for a decision varies with the complexity of the issue, she said.

If the leaseholders are unhappy with the FERC ruling, they can appeal first to FERC itself, and later to a U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, she said.

Grant PUD spokeswoman Dorothy Harris said the utility will file a response to the leaseholders’ motions this afternoon.

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