By Marcy Stamper
The Chiliwist residents who have been fighting to keep Three Devils Road open to the public have asked the state Supreme Court to hear their case.
The Chiliwist Residents and Friends assert that lower courts used incorrect legal standards and precedents to assess whether the Okanogan County commissioners’ decision to close Three Devils Road at the request of adjacent property owner Gamble Land and Timber was lawful. Gamble Land petitioned the county in 2015 to close the road to protect their property from vandalism and trespassing.
The Chiliwist residents contend that the Three Devils case raises several significant Constitutional issues. Counties and other municipal entities are not permitted to give money or property to benefit an individual or company, according the April 13 petition to the high court.
But in this case, dozens of people testified that they use the road regularly and consider it “a vital emergency link to and from the Chiliwist Valley,” wrote attorney Barnett Kalikow for the Chiliwist group. Area residents also testified in person and in writing that they use the road for recreation and access to the National Forest, he said.
State law says, “if the county road is found useful as a part of the county road system it shall not be vacated,” wrote Kalikow.
The case also raises a federal Constitutional issue because the county commissioners failed to protect the Chiliwist residents’ safety, life and property, wrote Kalikow.
Fact-finding conducted as part of the public process about the proposed road closure showed that the county engineer found closing the road would not benefit the public, wrote Kalikow. After a day of taking public testimony, the county’s hearing examiner also found that closing the road would not benefit the public, wrote Kalikow.
The Chiliwist group also contends that all three county commissioners held private meetings with representatives of the party petitioning to close Three Devils Road but failed to disclose this, creating the impression of violation of the appearance of fairness doctrine.
The case names the three county commissioners in office in 2015 when Gamble Land petitioned to close the road. Commissioners Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy were defeated in the 2016 election.
As in the lower courts, Kalikow contends that all cases cited as legal precedent pertain to city streets, where the impact of a road closure would be minimal because of the number of alternative routes. By contrast, Three Devils Road is a remote, primitive road that climbs west from the Chiliwist for several miles, ultimately connecting with the Loup Loup summit.
Kalikow also cites state law and legal precedent in claiming that, as regular users of the road, the Chiliwist residents must have the opportunity to pursue this matter further in court.
The Supreme Court justices can accept or decline to hear the case. There is no set deadline for that decision.
Three Devils Road remains open while the case is in litigation, through a bond posted by the Chiliwist residents.