Concerns raised about fire, water, road access
By Marcy Stamper
Citing concerns about road access, fire-evacuation routes and water, along with the opposition of neighbors, Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee denied an application to expand use of the Skalitude Retreat south of Carlton. Beardslee issued his decision on Dec. 19.
At the Dec. 10 hearing on the application, Beardslee took testimony from a dozen people who live near the property. All were opposed to changes that would allow Skalitude owner Lindsey Swope to build six small cabins and a conference center and to accommodate up to 350 participants at special events.
Swope also proposed constructing a zip line for guests and the public.
Skalitude is located in Smith Canyon near Libby Creek, about 7 miles from Carlton. The 160-acre property is adjacent to National Forest land.
In addition to testimony at the hearing, county planners received 11 letters and a petition opposed to the proposal. No testimony or letters from the public were in support of the project, noted Beardslee.
At the hearing, Beardslee questioned Swope about fire-evacuation plans, the zip line, anticipated traffic to and from the retreat, and the adequacy of the domestic water supply.
Several area residents said Smith Canyon and Libby Creek roads are not adequate as a fire-evacuation route. They said a proposed alternate escape route had not been used for 40 years and was not suitable.
Contrary to what had been suggested in the application, the property is not protected by Okanogan County Fire District 6, said Beardslee.
Some members of the public also questioned how conditions in the proposed agreement would be enforced and whether the county has sufficient law-enforcement capacity to handle any problems.
Edward Cupp, a project biologist with Terrapin Environmental who submitted the proposal on Swope’s behalf, said at the hearing that they would be willing to develop a fire-evacuation plan and acquire easements from the U.S. Forest Service for evacuation routes. They also proposed stationing fire tankers on the property.
“The applicant testified that part of their plan for dealing with wildfires would be to huddle their customers in the middle of the field,” wrote Beardslee.
In denying the application, Beardslee said the applicants had not adequately addressed water availability, the fiscal impact to the county, nor concerns about visual impacts and transportation.
A proposal to supply water from an existing, low-producing well for up to 350 people is not adequate, wrote Beardslee. “The Hearing Examiner finds this unpersuasive without engineering analysis, justification, and appropriate water system approvals,” he wrote.
Beardslee was also concerned about the plans for fire evacuation. “The applicant has offered no suitable plan for dealing with a wildfire situation. Okanogan County is experiencing a period of intense wildfire activity and mandatory evacuation orders are often ordered. The road systems are not adequate to handle the evacuation of several hundred people on short notice and would jeopardize the ability of residents of the area to do the same,” wrote Beardslee.
Beardslee wrote that he could not recommend approval of the proposal if all these issues are not satisfactorily addressed. Beardslee makes a recommendation to the county commissioners, who make the final decision.
The owners of Skalitude may submit another application that addresses the concerns that led to the denial, said Beardslee.
Neither Swope nor Cupp returned calls for comment.