This week, the Cowlitz County Superior Court ruled against Columbia Riverkeeper’s challenge to the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) decision to sell a popular public recreation area for planned industrial development at Austin Point.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Court Sides with DNR in Challenge to Agency’s Decision to Sell Public Recreation Land for Industrial Development along Columbia
April 19, 2019 (Kelso, WA)—This week, the Cowlitz County Superior Court ruled against Columbia Riverkeeper’s challenge to the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) decision to sell a popular public recreation area for planned industrial development. The land—located near the confluence of the Lewis and Columbia rivers—supports threatened and endangered species like sandhill cranes and Columbia white-tailed deer, as well as a great blue heron rookery and public pheasant hunting.
“Public land is the pride of Washington state. People reconnect with nature at this hidden gem along the Lower Columbia. The public has the right to know why state officials are selling out for heavy industrial development at a beloved recreation site,” stated Lauren Goldberg, Legal and Program Director for Columbia Riverkeeper.
“It's disappointing to see such valuable habitat sold off for industrial development without public input. The Woodland Bottoms is an incredible—and well known—rookery for great blue herons and the decision to industrialize this area without a comprehensive understanding of the impacts is distressing,” said Larry Brandt, Conservation Chair of the Willapa Hills Audubon Society.
DNR sold the land at issue to the Port of Woodland, which has long planned to build a railroad track across the property to access the Columbia River and develop a deep-water industrial port at Austin Point. In the lawsuit, Columbia Riverkeeper challenged DNR’s environmental analysis, which failed to acknowledge the Port’s industrial development plans or how industrial development would impact wildlife, habitat, and public recreation. Columbia Riverkeeper argued that DNR violated Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which requires agencies like DNR to disclose and study the reasonably foreseeable impacts of their actions.
The court ruled that DNR’s decision was exempt from the requirements of SEPA because DNR had not explicitly designated the site for public use, even though the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had designated the site as a public hunting and pheasant release site. The court went on to state that, even if SEPA did apply to the land sale, DNR adequately disclosed and considered the foreseeable impacts of the land sale and was not required to consider the Port’s future development of the site.
Columbia Riverkeeper has the right to appeal today’s decision within 30 days. The Crag Law Center, a non-profit environmental law center, represented Columbia Riverkeeper in this case.
About Columbia Riverkeeper
Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Representing over 16,000 members and supporters, Columbia Riverkeeper works to restore a Columbia River where people can safely eat the fish they catch and children can swim without fear of toxic exposure. Columbia Riverkeeper was represented in this matter by the Crag Law Center.
Columbia Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the world’s fastest growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations worldwide. For more information go to columbiariverkeeper.org.
Crag Law Center is a client-focused law center that supports community efforts to protect and sustain the Pacific Northwest’s natural legacy.