From the July 2001 Idaho Observer:
State high court rules Gorge house can stay
Washington supremes overrule federal commission attempts to circumvent due process
THE DALLES, Ore. -- The Washington State Supreme Court ruled June 29 that the Columbia River Gorge Commission does not have the authority to order a house overlooking the Columbia River Gorge to be torn down. Property rights activists see the ruling is a good sign as the state court finally defied the estimated authority of the federally-funded policymaking body commissioned to oversee federal interests in the federally-protected Columbia River Gorge.
In 1996, Brian and Jody Bea began building their dream house on property that had been owned by the family for several generations, overlooking one of the most breathtaking views in north America. The Beas applied for building permits in Skamania county and they were approved with conditions intended to protect the scenic value of the area and be in compliance with federal regulations oversighted by the Gorge Commission.
However, by the fall of 1999, when the Beas' $300,000 house was 70 percent complete, the Gorge Commission invalidated the county permits and ordered the county to order the Beas to move their dream home to a different location on their 40-acre homesite.
The Congressional Record shows that the 1986 passage of the Scenic Gorge Act was rammed through Congress by Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) so that it could be signed into law by Ronald Reagan without having to run the full gamut of congressional consideration.
The real effect of the Scenic Gorge Act has been to dissolve the border between Oregon and Washington at the Columbia River from The Dalles almost to Portland; create a federally-controlled area wherein all farms, ranches, businesses and homes are subject to federal oversight and rules -- all to protect the viewshed of the Columbia River Gorge.
Since passage of the Act, hundreds of people have lost use of their property which subsequently plummeted in commercial value. We are aware of at least three instances where desperate landowners sold their property for pennies to a pro-environmentalist organization called the Trust for Public Lands, which turned around within 10 minutes and recorded the resale of the property to the U.S. Forest Service for a 30 percent profit.
The policies of the federal government, as administrated by the Gorge Commission, killed the town of Bridal Veil. The commission had gotten so arrogant that those people who would not be driven from their homes or businesses were forced to consult with it before painting their houses to make sure the colors were approved. All outdoor lighting also had to be approved by the Gorge Commission.
Senator Packwood, the politician responsible for what happened to the people who live in the Gorge, was accused of sexual improprieties in 1996 and was forced to leave the Senate in disgrace.
In the Bea matter, the Gorge Commission claimed that the house was visible from popular tourist viewpoints on the Oregon side of the federally-controlled Gorge area and was, therefore, in violation of the Scenic Gorge Act. The commission also claims that the Beas did not accurately describe their intentions on the permit and that the county was lax in its enforcement of (federal?) law.
The Beas and their attorneys, with support from Skamania county which has also suffered under the weight of federal regulation within its jurisdictional boundaries, argued that the Gorge Commission did not have the authority to countermand a permit that had already been approved. The commission, claiming it was responding to complaints about the house, attempted to pull the Beas' permit a full year after the period where it could have legally done so with a proper appeal.
A lower state court in Clark county had already ruled in favor of the federal government. On appeal, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander stated for the majority, We agree with Skamania County and the Beas that the Gorge Commission's action was without authority of law.
The Court, however, left open the door for the commission to continue harassing the Beas by using other methods to force the couple to change their house to meet the dictates of the federal government.
The house has sat exposed to the elements, uninsulated, unheated since construction stopped in 1999. It remains to be seen what it will cost to repair the damage that has been caused since the Gorge Commission was able to place a stop order on the house.
The Beas describe the building of their dream home as becoming a nightmare. They have hopes that the Gorge Commission will leave them alone so that they can get on with their lives, finish building their home and raise their family in peace.
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