By Marcy Stamper
The steep, primitive road that leads from the Chiliwist toward the Loup Loup summit and the Methow Valley may soon have a day in court, as residents of the Chiliwist aim to show that the county commissioners violated the law when they voted to close the road.
The June 3 decision by the Okanogan County commissioners to close the road to the public was stayed six days later when Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp agreed to give Chiliwist Residents & Friends a chance to make their case. The group has argued that the road is an important escape route during emergencies and a way to access public lands. The county’s hearing examiner, Dan Beardslee, recommended it remain open.
Gamble Land and Timber, which owns the land surrounding the road, petitioned the county to close three miles of it to protect their property — which is used primarily for grazing and logging — from poaching and trespassing.
Although a hearing has been scheduled for Friday (June 26), the parties are still in consultation and are trying to reach agreements about the procedure and schedule for the case, according to David Gecas, interim chief civil deputy for Okanogan County.
Basically, they are trying to decide whether to set a briefing schedule for each party to submit its arguments to the court rather than meet before the case has been fully prepared, said Gecas. An agreement would also set a date for the judge to receive the full record in the case. They would also most likely decide whether the road would remain open until the matter is resolved in court, he said.
Without an agreement by all the parties, the June 26 hearing will proceed and it would be up to the county to respond to the Chiliwist group’s complaint by explaining why the commissioners had acted properly in vacating the road, said Gecas.
Conflicts of interest?
In a filing for the Chiliwist group, attorney Barnett Kalikow contends that the county commissioners have conflicts of interests with the “influential private property interests” who requested the road be vacated. Attorneys for Gamble have moved to dismiss the case and to lift the injunction on road closure, according to a list of court filings. They declined to provide any additional information about their case.
Kalikow’s complaint points to “longstanding and established friendships and close business ties to the Gebbers family and its interests” of county commissioners Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy. Gamble Land is run by members of the Gebbers family.
When they voted on vacating the road, Campbell and Kennedy voted to close it; commissioner Jim DeTro voted against the vacation. Kalikow contends that all three acted arbitrarily and capriciously both through their vote and by facilitating the vote.
Kalikow also claims that county staff members and contractors, including the county engineer and the hearing examiner, have conflicts of interest because of personal and professional ties to the Gebbers family.
Gecas is being assisted by attorney Sandy Mackie, who handles land-use matters for the county, and by Mark Johnsen, the attorney for the county’s risk pool, who is involved because the Chiliwist group may seek court fees, said Gecas.
Documents filed by attorneys for the county and Gamble Land were not available at press time.
Both Okanogan County Superior Court judges recused themselves, so the case will be heard by Douglas County Superior Court Judge John Hotchkiss. It is scheduled for Friday (June 26) at 2 p.m.; Hotchkiss will either travel to Okanogan for the case or conduct it by phone. There is an additional possibility it will be postponed if another case on Hotchkiss’s docket runs over, said Gecas.