What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Trouble in Vantage, County Help Overdue

The town of Vantage is almost as empty as this view of the Wanapum Reservoir from the Ginkgo Visitors Center
To the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners,

I am writing to ask you to take action to help the town of Vantage. For nearly four months the Wanapum Reservoir and its shoreline has been closed to all activities. The businesses in Vantage rely almost entirely on tourism and visitors to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and visitor's center, the Vantage boat launch and marina, and the nearby Wanapum State Park campground.

Off on the eastern edge of Kittitas County, Vantage is used to fending for itself, but the situation reached crisis levels some time ago. It seems to me that an appropriate response from official Kittitas County would include as many of the following as possible:
  • A strongly worded letter, sent as soon as possible to the Grant County PUD and copied to the Grant County Board of Commissioners, urging that the reservoir be opened after the 120 day temporary closure expires on July 3;
  • Coordination with the Grant County Board of Commissioners, who are responsible for another distressed commercial area on their side of the river, to see that access is restored as soon as possible;
  • Financial and other assistance to help Vantage business owners remind Kittitas County residents and visitors that Vantage is open for business (Hotel-Motel Tax Fund or Distressed Sales Tax funds seem appropriate here);
  • Exploring legal issues relating to access to the water, the shoreline, and the exposed riverbed: in Washington, the riverbeds of all rivers that are "navigable-in-fact" are owned by the state and are public trust lands.1 This matter should be clarified and pursued as much as possible to help business return to Vantage;
  • Exploring legal issues relating to making the business owners of Vantage whole after their businesses have been so seriously damaged, not by an act of God, but by decisions by administrators;
This situation has been developing since the reservoir was first closed in late April, not long before the beginning of the tourist season.2 Ideally, Kittitas County would have reached out much earlier to business owners to find ways to help, but it is not too late. The safety concerns associated with the initial closure evaporated with the water that once saturated the mud along the river, and the cultural resource concerns can be managed in a much more focused way than closing the entire area.

If you have already contacted Grant PUD, I would be happy to help spread the word by posting a copy of the letter on my blog, whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com .

Best regards,

Steve Verhey

1I am not a lawyer, but here is a relevant court case: Watkins v. Dorris, 24 Wash. 636, 644, 64 P. 840, 843 (1901).
2Official Kittitas County has been aware of this situation from the beginning, because the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office is contracted to help secure the closure. These same resources could be used to enforce alternate approaches to protecting what needs to be protected.