June 10, 2009
By Marcy Stamper
The PUD commissioners turned their attention once more to the Pateros-Twisp transmission line, three weeks after the district voluntarily dismissed its petitions to condemn property for the project.
Taking up the issue at their June 9 board meeting, the Okanogan County Public Utility District commissioners heard testimony from several property owners who have yet to grant easements.
At attorney for the landowners claimed the PUD will have to wait a year to re-start condemnation proceedings. He also said that compensating property owners for the full impact on more than 2,000 acres would result in great expense to the district and urged the commissioners to consider a different route.
The PUD still does not have easements from half a dozen property owners, both for power poles and for construction and maintenance access. Some are fighting the district’s efforts and others are still negotiating, according to testimony provided at the meeting.
Besides the 11 parcels across which the PUD seeks three miles of easements, Trevor Kelpman and Daniel Gebbers co-own more than 40 contiguous properties, totaling more than 2,000 acres, said attorney Richard Pierson. Pierson drew commissioners’ attention to a letter submitted to the PUD detailing the “highest and best use” of the entire property, which could be developed as two-acre homesites with open space and recreational areas.
“What you’re facing as a member of the board here is a cost-benefit question,” said Pierson, who maintained that a court would consider the 2,000 acres as one unit and that the PUD would have to compensate the property owners for the impact on the entire holding, “which could be very expensive.”
Pierson also represents Tina Davis, who owns a house on two acres south of Twisp where the PUD seeks to place a transmission pole. Davis said the PUD was asking her to “give away” too large an area for inadequate compensation. “This is my only home. I can sit on my porch and throw a rock at the easement,” she said.
Janet Thompson, a property owner in the Methow River Ranch development near Methow, spoke for herself and her sister, Annette Fitzsimmons, who owns adjoining property. As a member of the board of the homeowners’ association, Thompson said the association has determined that the Methow River Ranch covenants do not authorize the PUD to use private roads in the development to access the powerline. The association intends to contest the PUD’s claim that they are entitled to use the roads, said Thompson.
“It is actually a much more substantial and significant burden than the blithe presentation made here,” said Thompson, regarding the requirement that the PUD would always have the right of access across her property and pastureland.
Pierson also drew the commissioners’ attention to a state law that he said prevents the district from bringing eminent domain proceedings again for a full year from the date of dismissal. That would mean an additional delay until May 14, 2010, he said.
PUD staff plan to coordinate with Davis to survey her property so she and Pierson can determine the extent of encumbrance.
Pierson urged the commissioners to consider one of two other alternatives – rebuilding the existing Loup Loup corridor or using the right-of-way along Highway 153, both of which he claimed would not require any new easements. Two citizens also urged the commissioners to “show true progressive leadership” and reconsider the route.
The commissioners agreed to take up the issue again and “make a decision” at their June 23 meeting, after PUD staff considers the new testimony. President Trish Butler did not specify what decision they would be making.