By Marcy Stamper
A final order has been signed closing Three Devils Road, affirming that vacating the road was a valid legislative decision by the Okanogan County commissioners.
The order also dismisses the plaintiffs’ claims of fraud and collusion against Gamble Land and Timber, the county commissioners and county employees. Douglas County Superior Court Judge John Hotchkiss signed the order in Okanogan County Superior Court on Tuesday (Oct. 20).
Chiliwist Residents & Friends challenged the June decision by the county commissioners to close the road. The Chiliwist group claimed that the road is an important evacuation route and a way to access public lands.
They also charged that the commissioners had engaged in conspiracy and collusion and violated the appearance of fairness doctrine because of their alleged relationships with members of the Gebbers family. Gamble Land is operated by members of the Gebbers family.
The court lifted the injunction on closing the road and returned a $10,000 bond that the Chiliwist group had obtained to keep the road open while the matter was in litigation. Representatives for the county said they would gate the road immediately, according to Barnett Kalikow, the Chiliwist group’s attorney.
Gamble Land petitioned the county in February to close 3 miles of Three Devils Road to protect their adjoining property from trespassing and vandalism. Gamble Land uses the property primarily for grazing and logging. The plaintiffs intend to appeal the judge’s decision and will seek a stay in the road closure because the appeal process can take a long time, said Kalikow. They want to keep the road open through the next fire season and to prevent Gamble Land from doing anything that might create a more permanent closure, said Kalikow.
The Chiliwist group has not decided where it will file an appeal. The group may seek to bypass the Court of Appeals by asking the state Supreme Court to review the matter directly, said Kalikow. The group will most likely file an appeal this week, he said.
Hotchkiss ruled Sept. 18 that the county commissioners had the prerogative to close Three Devils Road as part of their management of the county’s road network. In a written opinion issued the following week, he found that the plaintiffs had not shown any evidence of a conspiracy.
Three Devils Road is a steep, primitive road that leads from the Chiliwist toward the Loup Loup summit and the Methow Valley.