By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County is considering vacating 11 roads, four in or near the Methow Valley, having determined that they are no longer needed for public use.
Some sections are a fraction of a mile, while others are as long as 7 miles. If all the road segments were closed, it would affect more than 36 miles.
County Public Works staff and the county commissioners have been reviewing their road system to reconcile roads listed on the 1955 road map or log that have been abandoned or are no longer believed to be useful to the County road system,” according to a legal notice published in the Omak Chronicle on Dec. 14.
The process of comparing the county’s list of roads with the map and with actual roads on the ground has been underway for about three years, said Planning Director Perry Huston early this month. The county has now gotten far enough in the review “to start doing housekeeping,” he said.
To terminate public access on any road, the engineer must report on whether the road is useful to the county, and the county must hold a public hearing.
In 1955, the state required counties to adopt their existing road systems, but since then roads have appeared or disappeared. Nevertheless, these changes have not always been accompanied by the appropriate action by the county commissioners, said Huston.
For example, some roads are on the map but not on the road log and have never been vacated. Some are on the log but are not recorded on the map. Other roads are on the list but are no longer on the landscape, said Huston.
“We’re trying to make the ’55 map and road log match,” said Huston, who said it was almost a wash, with about 100 miles to add to the county system and 100 to remove. The county has many miles of unmaintained, primitive roads.
The Washington State County Road Administration Board (CRAB), which provides gas-tax revenues to counties based on the mileage in their road systems, wants the maps and logs to match, although there is no mandate and not all counties are going through the process, said Huston. Between several arterial programs, counties receive approximately 5.96 cents per gallon, according to CRAB.
“The desired outcome at the end of all this would be for the road map adopted in 1955 to match the current county road system and to have a nice paper trail,” said Huston.
The legal notice had set a public hearing on the proposed vacations for Dec. 28, but it was not published in the county’s newspapers of record — the Methow Valley News and the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune — so it will have to be re-advertised to give the public adequate notice. State law requires the hearing be advertised for two weeks and that the proposed closures be posted on the roads themselves for at least 20 days.
There has been scrutiny over road vacations — most of them requested by adjacent property owners — over the past decade by county residents who say they use the roads to travel in the backcountry and to access public lands.
A lawsuit filed by a group of Chiliwist residents over the commissioners’ 2015 decision to close Three Devils Road is still in court. The suit asserts that the primitive road is an escape route and a way to access public land. But the adjacent property owners, Gamble Land and Timber, petitioned to vacate it because they wanted to prevent trespassing and poaching on their private land.
Roads apparently under consideration for vacation include one near Twin Lakes Road, one in the Goat Creek area, one near Texas and Benson creeks, one near Cow Creek, and one near Leecher Mountain. The other roads are north of Brewster, near Omak Lake, near Monse, north of Conconully, and near Nespelem.