County commissioners to decide road status on May 11
By Marcy Stamper
If the Okanogan County commissioners follow a recommendation from the county’s hearing examiner, the primitive road that leads over the ridge from the Chiliwist to the Methow Valley and the Loup Loup summit will remain open to the public.
“Three Devils Road is useful to the County Road system as an emergency evacuation route, as a scenic drive, and as a connector to National Forest Lands to the West. It is therefore useful to the County Road system,” wrote Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee in his recommendation to the county commissioners, dated May 4.
Beardslee said he was sympathetic to the needs of Gamble Land and Timber, who own adjacent property and requested that the county vacate three miles of the road so they can manage their land and protect their property rights. But Beardslee wrote that the proponents had not demonstrated that the road is useless to the county road system, nor that the public would be benefited if the county abandoned the road.
The steep, winding road leads through property Gamble owns for timber and cattle grazing. The company said leaving the road open creates problems because people trespass; leave gates open, allowing their cattle to stray; and poach wildlife.
The Chiliwist community suffered extensive damage in the Carlton Complex Fire last summer. Half of the residences in the area burned, and people had to evacuate on a moment’s notice. The area was affected by mudslides and flash floods later in the summer.
Testimony from area residents and written comments submitted to the county pointed out that Three Devils Road is the only road leading to the west, particularly because other roads in the area have already been privatized and are gated.
“Gamble argues that the public will be benefitted by the vacation of the road inasmuch as the County would be freed of the duty to maintain it and similarly freed of liability for lack of maintenance, but the benefit to the County government should not be confused with the needs of the County as represented by and comprised of its citizens,” wrote Beardslee. “The testimony by citizens, both oral and written, particularly with respect to the utility of the road as an emergency evacuation route, is far more compelling.”
Beardslee wrote that the county had received many letters, mainly from residents of the Chiliwist and Malott, and a petition signed by 228 individuals, all opposing vacation of the road. The only correspondence to the county in favor of vacating the road had been submitted by the Gamble Land, he said.
Gamble Land presented evidence showing that the company had carried out and paid for the majority of maintenance since acquiring the road in the 1990s, including $35,000 to repair damage from last year’s fire and floods.
Chiliwist residents had asked Beardslee to recuse himself, saying he could not be impartial because of professional connections with the Gebbers family. Gamble Land is operated by members of the family.
Beardslee denied their request at the April 9 hearing on the road vacation and stated in his recommendation to the commissioners that he is “of the firm and definite conviction that the matter of the vacation of Three Devils road was the subject of a fair and impartial hearing and that this recommendation … is… without bias to any party….”
Beardslee drove the route himself a week and a half after the hearing and found the road to be “quite passable.” He noted that a gate at the western end, which leads to the National Forest, was open.
Beardslee had requested additional briefing from lawyers for Gamble Land and for the Chiliwist Residents & Friends regarding a state law that prohibits vacation of roads abutting bodies of water. Beardslee wrote that the law did not appear to apply, but suggested the commissioners be aware of the statute when making their final decision on the vacation.
The commissioners will review the request to close the road and Beardslee’s recommendation on Monday (May 11) at 4:15 p.m. in their hearing room in Okanogan.