Suit filed by Gamble Lands, Cascade Holdings

By Marcy Stamper

Gamble Land & Timber and Cascade Holdings Group have filed a lawsuit charging that Okanogan County claimed 7.66 miles of French Creek-Texas Creek Road in 1955 without any right to the property.

The complaint to “quiet title” was filed in Okanogan County Superior Court on March 3.

The complaint charges that when the county adopted the 1955 resolution and subsequent resolutions renaming the road, the county “did not pay any compensation to the French Creek Road Landowners, or their predecessors, for the French Creek Road.”

The suit also alleges that the county did not follow proper statutory procedures for acquiring title to the road, which the complaint states was built and maintained by Gamble Land, Cascade Holdings or their predecessors. The suit alleges that the county has never improved nor maintained the road.

The suit also states that any public use of French Creek Road has been only by permission of the plaintiffs, since both ends of the road are gated. One gate has been in place for at least 40 years, and the other since 2009, according to the complaint.

A quiet-title lawsuit seeks to resolve ownership by clearing up any other claims to the property, said Nick Lofing, an attorney with Davis Arneil Law Firm who is representing the plaintiffs. Lofing said he is not aware of parties other than Okanogan County with a claim to the property.

Okanogan County filed a response to the lawsuit on March 7, denying the allegations. The response, signed by Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Albert Lin and Special Deputy Prosecutor Alexander Mackie, characterizes the charges as “vague and incomplete” and says that the county does not have sufficient information to defend against them.

The county says the plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies and that the charges are not within the statue of limitations.

The county’s reply also notes that other pertinent information may arise, since investigation and discovery in the case have just begun. The county asks the court to dismiss the suit.

Lin said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.

According to the complaint, Gamble Land owns two parcels adjacent to the road, and Cascade Holdings, identified as a Nevada limited partnership, owns four. The county assessors’ records give the same post office box in Brewster as the mailing address for both companies.

Long interest in road

There has been considerable interest in, and controversy over, French Creek-Texas Creek Road over the years — in particular, whether it is a public road or private property.

In 2009, adjacent property owners Jim Weddle and Gebbers Farms petitioned the county to vacate part of French Creek Road.

In 2009, the county commissioners initially ordered that the gate be removed because of the road’s importance as an escape route and for access to public lands. About two months later, the commissioners modified their order, saying that the county only had jurisdiction over a short stretch of the road, allowing the gate to remain.

That change followed a recommendation by Okanogan County’s chief civil deputy at the time, who said the commissioners’ order to unlock the gate had been based on incomplete information. The county’s attorney said he had been contacted by attorneys for the property owners, who presented legal documents and deeds.

French Creek Road was the first stagecoach route into the Methow Valley from Pateros, according to testimony by a Public Works staffer in 2009. However, since the road has been gated for decades, its recent use as a public thoroughfare has been limited.

Many segments, many names

“There is a lot of confusion over which portion of the road we’re talking about,” said Lofing, particularly with regard to the stretch at issue in the 2009 vacation petition.

Lofing said he would ask his clients to clarify which roads are involved in the current quiet-title complaint. He also said he would ask their reasons for seeking vacation of numerous roads throughout the county in the past 10 or 15 years. The plaintiffs’ response was not available by press time.

In addition to the 2009 vacation petition for French Creek Road, Gamble Land petitioned the county two years ago to close Three Devils Road in the Chiliwist, which is currently being challenged in court. As the adjacent landowners, Gamble Land said they wanted Three Devils Road closed to protect their property from trespassing and vandalism.

Since about 2000, Gamble Land and other Gebbers-family companies have successfully petitioned the county to close numerous roads to the public, including Rat Lake Road, Whitestone Canyon Road, and Swamp Creek/Hooker Creek Road.

All the roads in question traverse private property owned by Gamble, Cascade Holdings or Gebbers and lead to state and federal lands.

Another vacation

This January, Okanogan County held a public hearing about vacating 11 roads to reconcile the county’s 1955 road log and map. One of the roads on that list, Road 81, connects to the French Creek-Texas Creek Road beyond the second gate.

At the hearing on Jan. 23, Road 81 was the most contentious of the 11 roads under consideration for closure, with much public opposition to vacation.

With many questions from county commissioners Andy Hover and Chris Branch about the history of the Texas Creek-French Creek Road and the two gates and when they were installed, the commissioners said they needed more information before deciding whether the road was part of the county road system.

According to testimony at that hearing, the two gates are on the portion of French Creek Road at issue in the quiet-title complaint.

Work on the quiet-title lawsuit started back in January and the summons was signed on Jan. 24. The documents were served on the county March 3.