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March 12, 2008
Property dispute stands in way of trail plan
ENUMCLAW, Washington (STPNS) -- If existing sections of the Foothills Trail in Enumclaw and Buckley are ever to be joined, they will need to pass through a mix of personal and public property ? and, if early discussions are any indication, figuring the lay of the land will be tricky business.
A March 1 meeting began on property owned by Edwin ?Stormy? Storm and, when the rains came, adjourned to Enumclaw City Hall chambers. Attended by rural property owners, a handful of their boosters and King County officials, the session produced a fair share of frustration.
The talks escalated to a point where Enumclaw Mayor John Wise left the meeting and contacted city police. An officer responded to the meeting, which was still under way, but took no action.
Wise is an ardent supporter of public trails and has pushed for linking the paved pieces in Enumclaw and Buckley, but was serving only as a facilitator March 1. If Enumclaw?s trail is to be extended toward the White River, it will be the county?s doing.
Apparently, all agree expansion of the trail would be a good thing. Wise supports it, the county has gone on record as being a booster and Storm has indicated he won?t stand in the way ? with one provision. He wants to be paid for land taken for trail uses.
The first sticking point is whether the Storm is the owner of the land in question, with no legal stipulations.
A bit of history is in order. Storm purchased a handful of acres east of Boise Creek in 1966, a tract of land he still calls home. Between the creek and state Route 410 was a swath of land about 1,000 feet long and, in places, up to 400 feet wide. It was owned by Burlington Northern Railroad and included a city of Tacoma water pipeline that still provides drinking water from Howard Hanson Dam to residents of Tacoma, and others along the way.
When the railroad abandoned its property, it gave the land to Tacoma. The city, in turn, asked adjoining property owners if they wanted to take possession of the land through a quitclaim deed agreement. Storm jumped at the opportunity and has maintained a parcel since 1991, planting trees and shrubs, keeping it mowed and, until recently, making a few dollars by allowing businesses to plant signs along the busy stretch of highway.
Storm believes the land is rightfully his.
That feeling isn?t universal.
Wise said he left the March 1 meeting convinced that Storm owns a piece of the territory in question, but King County has the rights to the portion earmarked for the trail.
?If it?s not really my property, why am I paying for it?? Storm asked, noting that he pays taxes to King County each year on the land.
A King County attorney present at the March 1 meeting told Storm his quitclaim deed doesn?t provide outright ownership.
Storm said a representative from the county auditor?s office had previously told him his document was as binding as a title to the land.
?It wasn?t a very good meeting at all,? Storm said of the March 1 session. ?Nothing was resolved at all.?
Storm said he?s willing to see a trail go through the land, despite concerns over littering and vandalism.
?I?ll sell them a 30-foot swath, whatever they need,? he said. But he feels state law is on his side and prohibits the taking of private land.
?If you take it without paying for it, that?s stealing,? he said.
Wise said the next step is for Storm and an adjacent property to continue debating the issue with the county.
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