Development Along the White Salmon River Blocked
In 2013 Crag celebrated a victory with our clients, Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, in blocking an ordinance that attempted to rezone 1,000 acres of riverside land along the White Salmon River.
On May 27, 2013, Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson agreed with our clients and held that the county’s extensive rezoning plan was unconstitutional, illegally giving individual landowners the right to increase the development densities on their land.
In 2009, Klickitat County moved forward with a proposal to allow increased residential development on over 1,000 acres in and around the small rural enclaves of BZ Corner and Husum. The rezoning would have allowed for a ten-fold increase in development and allowed minimum lot sizes of 2 acres. Despite strong opposition from the public, state agencies, the Yakama Nation, the Forest Service, and conservation groups, the county forged ahead with its decision to rezone.
During this time the White Salmon river also received national attention from the removal of the century-old Condit dam. The removal of the dam was central to restoring wildlife throughout the ecosystems. The river was flowing free again, but now sprawling development was directly threatening the river. After all the work put in to restore the White Salmon River, local residents felt they had no alternative but to stand up and challenge the County’s short-sighted plans in court. Finally, in Spring 2013, after years of court battles, the Washington Superior Court decided that Klickitat County violated the Washington State Constitution protections for private property and state environmental laws.
“This decision gives us an opportunity to actually address how to protect existing water supplies, private property and the key tributaries of the White Salmon River that are critical to fish and wildlife. Now local landowners, residents, business owners, and conservation-minded people can look forward to engaging with the County to develop a set of sustainable options to protect farmlands, forestlands and water supplies for the local community and returning salmon.”
–Pat Arnold, President of Friends of the White Salmon River
Historically, the White Salmon River and Columbia Gorge have been recognized as vital ecological resources and sites. Congress designated the Lower White Salmon as a Wild and Scenic River in 1986 as part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. In 2005 the Upper White Salmon was also designated as a Wild & Scenic River. The new Lower Gorge section of the river that was buried behind the dam has not yet been designated under federal law. The White Salmon is one of only three Wild and Scenic Rivers in the State of Washington.
Instead of accepting Clark County Superior Court decision and working with the public and the community to develop alternatives, the County appealed. Our clients opposed the appeal and the case was presented to the Court of Appeals in early 2015. Then, in an unexpected turn, in early June 2015 the County decided to repeal the controversial ordinance, effectively dissolving the court battle and annulling the residential projects. Stopping this development ordinance was a huge achievement.
The future of the river will be determined by the fate of the land in and around it, and the community will need to remain vigilant to protect the river from unsustainable development. Crag continues to support the Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia River Gorge as they watchdog and work to protect this special place.
Crag represented Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge in this legal challenge against the County’s zoning decisions.
Friends of the White Salmon River have worked to protect this delicate watershed against dams, logging, and development since 1976.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a conservation organization dedicated entirely to protect the vibrant and wild Columbia Gorge.