Mickey Gendler:

The Douglas County "Riverfront highway" case

This was probably my greatest achievement.  The DOT was proposing a four lane highway between East Wenatchee and the Rocky reach dam, a distance of about 8 miles.  There was no road or other development along the shoreline.  This was due to a fortunate accident of history.  In the 1950s, the federal government gave state highway departments a pile of money to "bank" land that might be needed for future highway use.  WS DOT bought up 8 miles of prime riverfront property, but they had no money or plan to build a highway.  The land thus was saved for posterity, released until the 1980s when DOT decided to build a two-lane Riverfront highway, with plans to expand to four lanes as funding became available.

A local group of residents formed the Save the Riverfront Committee, and its President Cliff Bates called me.  Local politics at that time were such that challenging a major project was unthinkable.  A group of highly respected local citizens, including some doctors, were firmly on our side but did not wish to be associated with the committee publicly.  So they formed a new local land trust, the Chelan - Douglas Land Trust.  The idea was that the land trust would accept and manage the Riverfront corridor for recreation and preservation if WS DOT could be persuaded to not build a highway (fat chance!), or if we defeated them (fat chance too!).  The important point was that the land trust would give us credibility, that there was a viable alternative to a Riverfront highway.

Our first legal proceeding was to challenge the validity of the EIS.  We lost this case in Douglas County Superior Court, but this may have been the best thing that ever happened to us.  Our group was galvanized, and when it came time to challenge the shoreline permit issued by Douglas County to WS DOT, both the county and WS DOT were totally unprepared for the case that we put on.  They thought that the shoreline permit case would simply be a rerun of the EIS adequacy case.  We had strong new expert witnesses to show that there was a "feasible and desirable" alternative to the highway, which we had to do to prevail under the Douglas County shoreline program provision which prohibited new roads in the shoreline if there was a feasible and desirable alternative.

We caught another major break.  The first week of the hearing before the shoreline hearings board was held in East Wenatchee, pursuant to the board's custom of holding at least part of hearings in the local community.  As the appellant, we went first, so the entire first week was our case.  All of the local powers that be, including the local press (the Wenatchee World), were firmly against us.  But two great things happen for us.  First, the first week of the hearing coincided with hearings in the Superior Court lawsuit in Chelan County on a scandal involving the Chelan County Sheriff.  The scandal dominated the local press.  Second, the newspaper assigned a new reporter to our case because all of the experienced reporters were covering the scandal.  The new reporter did not know much local politics, and did not understand that we had no credibility and were to be ignored.  There was enough space left on the front page after the scandal took up its headlines so that we still got major front-page coverage, with lengthy jumps to an inside page, and the reporter covered our case in extraordinary detail.  The other side's case did not get heard until the next two weeks in Thurston County, and their side got virtually no local press coverage in the Wenatchee World!

I vividly remember the mayor of Wenatchee coming up to us during the first week, and telling me that we were wasting our time because we had no chance to stop this highway project.  I think he was sympathetic to our case, compared to what some other local leaders and citizens told us.

Another local politics story was that the local Democrats tried to make the highway project in issue at their caucus.  I was told that Mary Bates, Cliff's wife, punched old George Batterman for trying to do this.  You have to know Mary to appreciate this, there is no way she weighed as much as 100 pounds.  She was afraid that she was going to get arrested and have to face assault charges.  I do not mind bringing this up now, I am pretty sure that the statute of limitations has expired.

The shoreline board typically decides its cases within a month after the hearing.  After our hearing finished up in Lacey, we waited more months than I can remember without a decision.  Our cases heard by a five-member panel of the board.  The board has six members.  It takes for members to vote to reverse a local government decision.  In case of a three to three tie, the local government decision is affirmed.  Many, many months after our hearing, the board informed us that it needed to appoint a sixth member to decide our case.  This meant that three members were voting to reverse the permit in our favor, and that two were voting to uphold the permit.  This meant that the case would be decided by the sixth member.  We soon learned that the sixth member was to beat Dennis McLerran, who had been the director of Seattle's land use department, and would go on to be director of the Puget Sound air quality authority.  I did not really know much about Dennis at that time.  But when the board did a second site visit, and Dennis went on and on about how he would love to kayak this part of the river (the tour was in a motorboat, provided by Dan Feil, a local boat shop owner who happened to be the director of the save the Riverfront committee), I figured we had a pretty good chance.

About a month or two later, the board issued its decision reversing the Douglas County permit, by a vote of four to two.  We had one.  WS DOT appeal to Superior Court.  But the case was assigned to Judge Charlie Cone, who had said on the record when he ruled against us on the EIS case that he thought the Riverfront was a beautiful corridor that should not be wasted for a highway.  He said at that time that his opinion did not matter in an EIS adequacy case.  But now we were the prevailing party, and all he needed to do was affirm the board's decision.  He did.  WS DOT decided to not appeal, and the case was over.

Coyote Leading Salmon sculpture on the Apple Capital Recreation Trail in Wenatchee. (from:  Terry Richard OregonLive.com)

Apple Capital Loop Trail

The Apple Capital Loop Trail is a scenic 10-mile paved loop trail for pedestrians, cyclists, and skaters. This scenic trail can be entered or exited from the Riverwalk Crossing Pedestrian Overpass located in the heart of downtown Wenatchee or at several locations on both sides of the river that have plenty of free public parking areas. The trail crosses the Columbia River at the north and south ends of Wenatchee and is lighted until midnight on the Wenatchee side. A 2-mile trail extends south, from 9th Street in East Wenatchee, to Rock Island Hydro Park.  (source: Wenatchee Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Aerial view of the Columbia River upstream of Rocky Reach Dam, Wenatchee (right), and East Wenatchee (left).  Source:  Apple Capital Loop Trail, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust.