White Salmon: The Little River That Could

First a Dam Was Removed, and Now Residential Sprawl is Thwarted; Famous River Shows What’s Possible for Rivers Here, and Everywhere

Washington Superior Court Rules That Klickitat County Violated Constitutional Law,  Property Rights Protections, and State Environmental Laws

Husum and BZ Corner Washington, June 11, 2013 – First the Condit Dam on the famous
White Salmon River was removed in 2012, and now, less than one year later, the river, citizens
and fish scored another big victory: blocking unchecked sprawl and hundreds of river- and
stream- side homes that could have imperiled returning salmon and their key habitat. By
enforcing state constitutional laws and state environmental laws, citizens of the region are
showing what’s possible for rivers here, and everywhere. Their work is ushering a new era of
river restoration and protection– one where a comprehensive approach to watershed management
is welcoming back native fish while also protecting local jobs for the long-term.

Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge led the challenge against
Klickitat County – a challenge that potentially benefits generations of Northwest residents. In a
case that was years in the making, Clark County Superior Court ruled that Klickitat County
violated the Washington State Constitution protections for private property and state
environmental laws. The violations are associated with a broad-scale rezoning that allowed
residential sprawl on over 1,000 acres of land along the Wild & Scenic White Salmon River. If
left unchecked, the sprawl would have likely added hundreds of homes on small two-acre lots.

This is the first court decision involving the future of the lands in the White Salmon River Valley
along the Wild & Scenic White Salmon River.!Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson wrote: !

“The court concludes the County violated SEPA [State Environmental Policy Act]
by failing to prepare an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] for this extensive
rezone, The County failed to adequately consider a reasonable range of
alternatives, failed to consider adverse Impacts, and improperly relied upon the
FFR Program [a mitigation banking scheme], which is incomplete and has never
been finalized as mitigation. The court also concludes the County unlawfully
delegated the right to individual landowners to upzone their land, and the RR-2
[Rural-Residential] overlay constitutes unlawful spot zoning.” (Letter from Judge
Barbara Johnson, Clark County Superior Court, May 27, 2013)

Pat Arnold, President of Friends of the White Salmon River, stated, “The County failed to ensure
that salmon and steelhead will be protected.  Many stakeholders have spent countless hours and
millions of dollars to return fish to the river, and we need to do everything we can to protect this
valuable community asset.”

Plaintiffs challenged the county for passing zoning ordinances that spread development across
the landscape from Husum down to the former dam site and on both sides of the river in and
around BZ Corner.  The decision would have allowed hundreds of new water wells and septic
systems threatening water supplies with depletion and pollution. Arnold explained, “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 to
farmlands, forestlands and water supplies for the local community and returning salmon.”

Rick Till, Conservation Legal Advocate with the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said “The
Lower White Salmon Wild and Scenic River is one of the natural gems of the Pacific Northwest.
The removal of Condit Dam freed the waters and brought back salmon to the Wild & Scenic
river corridor.  The county turned a blind eye to this progress and sought to increase
development on lands near key White Salmon River tributaries with the highest quality spawning
habitats, as well as the newly restored section. We are thrilled to now have a fresh opportunity to
work with the Yakama Nation, the Forest Service, the local community and engage with the
county to protect this truly remarkable river.”

Ralph Bloemers, an attorney with the Crag Law Center who represented plaintiffs in court stated,
“The court ruled that the county violated constitutional due process and equal protection rights
given to landowners in the community designed to protect private property. The county violated
State law by ‘spot zoning’ farmland and unlawfully delegating to a select group of landowners in
the Wild & Scenic River corridor the right to increase development density by up to ten-fold.
The County now has an opportunity to start over and chose to work with the local community
and conservation groups, the Yakama Nation, state and federal agencies to develop alternatives
that protect wild fish, farmland and water supplies.”

While the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act gives the Forest Service authority over federal actions,
Klickitat County has authority to regulate private land use within the Wild and Scenic River
corridor. State law requires Klickitat County to involve the public in planning and consider the
impacts of new development on valuable farmland, fish and wildlife habitat, water supplies and
the White Salmon River.  The county first proposed to increase the development on farm and
forestland along the river in 2007 by allowing up to 10 times the amount of development.  The
county moved ahead despite opposition from the public, state and federal agencies and a lack of
scientifically reliable information on how sprawling residential development would harm fish
and wildlife in this scenic area. The broad-scale rezone increased development around the river
near BZ Corner and all the way from the rural center of Husum down to the former Condit Dam
site. (See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/86671569@N08/sets/72157631445570610/)

The dam removal restored salmon to historic spawning grounds and by bringing this river back
to its natural free-flowing state.  The Court’s decision helps protect salmon and the astonishing
recovery process.  The decision protects the source waters that flow in the tributaries and sub-
surface in this “gaining” river, which is a river that is fed by surrounding shallow aquifers, seeps,
springs and tributaries in what is a highly leaky hydro-geologic system.  These are the very
values for which this Wild & Scenic River was designated.  For further information, we have
attached the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and the Reply brief from the docket and
referenced in the Judge’s initial order.

Lawsuit History

At the request of a group of local residents, Friends of the White Salmon filed an appeal of the
County’s rezoning plan covering land in and around BZ Corner and Husum to protect naturally
reproducing anadromous fish runs.  At the hearing on this appeal, in 2009, nearly 100 local
residents, the Yakama Nation, agency representatives, local outfitters, and conservation groups
testified and submitted comments in opposition to the County’s plans.  The Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Ecology submitted comments raising
questions about impacts to wildlife and water supplies.

Nonetheless the County moved ahead with its decision and an administrative hearing was held in
December 2010.  Ralph Bloemers of the Crag Law Center (www.crag.org) worked with the
Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge to bring the
administrative appeal of the County’s decision.  An administrative hearing was held.  Mr.
Bloemers retained expert hydro-geologist Mark Yinger and wildlife biologist Ted Labbe to
advise the groups on the impacts to the river system. Mr. Yinger testified how the County’s plan
would rely on hundreds of new exempt wells and threaten water supplies and fish that rely on the
cold river tributaries.  Mr. Labbe testified that the County had completely failed to consider how
sprawling residential development would impact wildlife in the valley, including big game and
endangered wildlife. Ralph Bloemers cross-examined the county’s experts and obtained
admissions from those experts of the risks to the water supply.  The county’s hearing examiner
upheld the decision, which was then challenged in Washington Superior court in June 2012.

According to Forest Service data, up to 12 local rafting companies take nearly 30,000 people
down the White Salmon River each year for a wild and scenic whitewater experience. This
recreational activity brings millions of dollars to the local economy and supports several local
guide companies and other businesses. Congress designated the Lower White Salmon Wild and
Scenic River in 1986 as part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act and
designated the Upper White Salmon as wild and scenic in 2005. The new Lower Gorge section
of the river that was buried behind the dam has not yet been designated. The White Salmon is
one of only Wild and Scenic Rivers in the State of Washington. The Forest Service is charged
with protecting the White Salmon River’s “outstandingly remarkable values,” which include
whitewater boating, the White Salmon River Gorge, hydrology, native fish, and Native American
cultural sites.  Residential sprawl would undermine the wild and scenic character of the river and
degrade its recognized outstandingly remarkable values.