June 24, 2009

By Marcy Stamper

The PUD commissioners unanimously approved their chief engineer’s recommendation that the district issue a new resolution to acquire 30 properties by eminent domain for their Pateros-Twisp powerline. The decision came at their Tuesday (June 23) meeting.

In May, after lawyers for property owners claimed that the Okanogan County Public Utility District had not provided the required notice and had failed to consider alternate routes, the district dismissed an effort begun last September to acquire the same easements.

In explaining the need to condemn land for these easements, chief engineer Derek Miller noted that easements have already been secured on both ends of the affected parcels. In addition, because the 26.5-mile Pateros-Twisp route is in the corridor studied in the final Environmental Impact Statement, it is infeasible to reroute these sections to avoid the properties in question, he wrote in his recommendation.

Concerning the easements sought across properties co-owned by Daniel Gebbers, Miller referred to a verbal agreement made by Gebbers to grant easements in return for power to three stock tanks, prompting the PUD to relocate a segment of the line from land owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to Gebbers’ land. “Since that relocation occurred Dan Gebbers says he has changed his mind and does not want the line on his property,” wrote Miller.

For road access across two parcels near Methow, Miller stated that it is impractical to build almost 4,000 feet of new roads when roads already exist.

Miller said he is still negotiating with many of the landowners but is recommending “pursuing a parallel path of Eminent Domain action” in case the negotiations fail.

The most extensive private easements still to be acquired traverse property near Pateros co-owned by Gebbers and Trevor Kelpman, amounting to 2.69 miles, or a total encumbrance of almost 33 acres, for 16 transmission-line poles. In addition, the district seeks access to about four miles of roads on the Gebbers-Kelpman parcels.

The PUD also seeks to place 12 poles on more than two miles of land owned by corporate interests of the Gebbers family, and almost a mile of road across these properties.

The other easements sought by the PUD are near Benson Creek, to place two transmission poles and for road access. The two remaining easements are for road access on contiguous properties in the Methow River Ranch development near Methow, using one-quarter mile of existing driveway and 100 feet of land, according to Miller’s report.

The PUD commissioners intend to consider a new resolution authorizing acquisition by eminent domain at their July 28 meeting.

An attorney for Gebbers and Kelpman stated at the PUD’s meeting two weeks ago that a state law prevents the district from bringing eminent domain proceedings again for a full year from the date of dismissal. The waiting period did not come up at Tuesday’s meeting.

The PUD also has an application pending with the state Department of Natural Resources for almost 12 miles of easements for the transmission line. The district is expecting DNR to provide a timeline for a decision at the end of July, according to PUD general manager John Grubich. The district is not seeking to acquire this land by eminent domain at this time.

Regarding the DNR easements, “if the decision is no, there is only one recourse,” said Miller at Tuesday’s meeting. He did not provide further details.

Mazama resident and former candidate for PUD commissioner Ken Sletten was the only person to offer public comment at the meeting. He urged the commissioners to “get on with it” and suggested they counter-sue opponents of the Pateros-Twisp route if there is further litigation.