Project would build 56 homes near Methow
Comments submitted by the public to Okanogan County about the Copperstone Planned Development, which would build 56 new homes on 277.5 acres near the town of Methow, are unanimously opposed to the project.
In addition to concerns about the impacts of such a large development on the valley and its scarce water resources, some commenters said the prospective developers had missed key deadlines. And one person raised questions about the property owner’s and developer’s official business status.
Copperstone has been in the works for at least 15 years. Over that period, developers have submitted and withdrawn plans to the county several times. The project has also been called Burma Shores. Plans for the development include a clubhouse, trail system, pond and storage facility.
The Okanogan County Planning Department received 36 comments on the proposal, 30 from the general public and six from state and local agencies. Agencies evaluate projects for compliance with their areas of oversight but generally don’t provide a subjective opinion.
Many concerns about the proposal focused on water — whether there is enough to supply such a large development, and whether the statement by developer Portal West Corp. that they have a water right for Copperstone is valid.
Portal West says they have a water right to supply up to 56 dwellings, although the paperwork submitted with the application says the right provides water for 48 homes and irrigation for 21 acres.
In its comments, the Washington Department of Ecology said that the application to convert water from agricultural to residential use had expired because the Copperstone developers missed a 2010 deadline. “Ecology has yet to receive the documents specified in the provisions and without these documents the change authorization is subject to cancellation,” Ecology said in its letter to the county.
Switching seasonal water use for farming to year-round use for homes also triggered concerns. “Converting agricultural water to domestic water is not a precedent that we want to set. Time and time again the people in the Methow Valley have indicated that keeping our Agricultural land is a priority,” said one commenter.
Many said the location, 2 miles south of the town of Methow, can’t support so many new residences, particularly because it’s far from shopping and other services. That would affect traffic, air quality and climate change, people said.
Forty-eight residents of the lower Methow Valley signed a petition opposing Copperstone. They said they’re not opposed to “normal growth” for families and seasonal workers, but they are worried about the impacts Copperstone would have on water quality and quantity, wildlife and property taxes.
Water-quality, housing concerns
Site plans submitted with the application show about 40 homes along the Methow River, with the rest on larger parcels at higher elevations. The application says each home would be served by its own septic system.
The Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) said that arrangement poses a risk to water quality. “Densely clustered Septic tanks adjacent to the Methow river are highly likely to impact water quality, contaminating ground and surface water, and harming fish and wildlife,” MVCC said. MVCC pointed to a report it commissioned in 2014 that showed that aquifers along the river don’t have a protective impermeable layer to keep pollutants out.
Others worried about how the large development would affect an emergency such as a wildfire, in terms of evacuation of residents and access for first responders.
In their application, the developers said “the proposed development is not expected to provide significant permanent housing for families as these are proposed to likely be used as vacation homes.” Some commenters said that would only worsen the valley’s already urgent need for affordable housing, because these homes would increase the demand for services without adding housing for the people who provide those services.
Some worried about the effect of 56 more homes and paved roads on wildlife habitat.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said they were pleased with aspects of the plan intended to protect wildlife, including preserving open space and restricting dogs from running free. WDFW recommended conservation easements to protect mule deer and the Western gray squirrel.
Attorney Natalie Kuehler submitted comments on behalf of MVCC that identified numerous irregularities, including questions about whether one of the companies that filed the Copperstone paperwork even exists.
Not only was the water right lost when Burma Shores failed to meet the deadline to submit final plans to Ecology, but the conditional approval of the water-right conversion was issued to a nonexistent company, Kuehler said.
The approval was issued to Burma Shores Inc., at an address in Seattle, but the owner of the underlying real property was Burma Shores LLC, in Minneapolis, Kuehler said. A review of available records shows there was never a Burma Shores Inc., registered in Washington, Kuehler said.
The Okanogan County Auditor’s records show that the property at issue — and, therefore, the corresponding water right — was never owned by Burma Shores Inc. The real property was transferred to Burma Shores LLC, in Minnesota, in a series of statutory warranty deeds in 2007 and 2008, Kuehler said.
“Similarly, it was the non-existent Burma Shores Inc. that submitted a water-trust donation application for a water right it never owned,” she said. Copperstone application materials show that the company put the water in trust to preserve it for future use. But because the initial trust application wasn’t submitted until 2016, the water right may already have been lost to relinquishment, Kuehler wrote.
Burma Shores failed to apply for a dam-safety permit and a reservoir permit from Ecology, which are required for the proposed impoundment of water in a pond to mitigate for domestic water use, Kuehler said.
“This is no mere clerical error that can be ignored. Instead, all of the public notices issued by Ecology, as well as the legal notice published by the Applicant in 2008 regarding its proposed changes to the Water Right and the trust water donation applications and extensions, named ‘Burma Shores, Inc. of Seattle, Washington’ rather than Burma Shores, LLC of Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the underlying water right owner,” Kuehler said in comments for MVCC.
Beyond that, even Burma Shores LLC has now been terminated and can’t pursue any transactions whatsoever in Washington, Kuehler said. Although Burma Shores LLC registered with Washington in 2007, the company failed to submit the annual report due this February. As a result, the Washington Secretary of State terminated Burma Shores’ registration effective June 3, meaning the company cannot legally undertake any actions — including the proposed development, Kuehler said.
The discrepancy in the Burma Shores company names is a typo that isn’t material, Portal West Corp. President Gary Scott told the Methow Valley News this week. The company’s accountant will be filing a reinstatement of the registration with Washington, he said.
Portal West has just begun to review the public comments. People opposed to a project always bring up lots of things that may or may not have validity, and misunderstandings about water are common, Scott said.
Portal West is working with a water consultant. Scott said the consultant’s input is necessary to provide an accurate, succinct explanation of the water they intend to use for Copperstone, but he hadn’t heard from the consultant as of press time.
“From my perspective, nothing that’s been brought up so far is an issue,” Scott said.
The Okanogan County Planning Department is looking into discrepancies in the application, Planning Director Pete Palmer said after the initial project review. The most significant is the water right, since Ecology has already determined there isn’t enough water for 56 houses and for irrigation, she said.
The Planning Department has been in negotiations with Van Ness Feldman, a law firm that has worked on other planning matters for the county, to handle planned developments, which can be very complex and time-consuming, Palmer said.