SANDPOINT — A debate regarding personal property rights and public accessibility will see another chapter tomorrow in a decades-long saga including developers, property owners, county commissioners, citizens, and the Idaho Supreme Court.
The debate attempts to answer if the final section of Camp Bay Road near Sagle Road runs all the way to Lake Pend Oreille’s high-water mark, or ends at property now owned by M3 ID Camp Bay LLC.
Wednesday, Feb. 17, Bonner County commissioners are set to reexamine their April 7 decision to vacate the final portion of road on the grounds that the county would no longer have to maintain the approximately half-mile portion of road.
“I see it as a plus for everybody involved. It saves the county road money. It gives a better access for the people that live there. And it allows you to develop good property,” Commissioner Steven Bradshaw said April 7. “If this was in fact a public access to the lake, [Idaho Department of Lands] and Fish and Game would have jumped all over that. They would have been very loud. … It’s hard to justify giving away 3 acres given at what property is going for now until you look at all the details involved.”
The decision vacated the final 2,550 feet, or 2.93-acres, of the gravel road. Green Enterprises, Inc., which sought the vacation, said in documents submitted to the commission that the move is in the public interest because it would protect Lake Pend Oreille by moving the road further from the lakeshore.
Three people spoke in favor of the road vacation; however, two members of the Green family spoke against the vacation.
Neighbors and citizens disagreed with the decision. Fred and Jennifer Arn filed suit against the county on May 4 alleging that county commissioners did not have the right to vacate the road based on an 11-point complaint.
Among the complaints was that the commissioners failed to evaluate if the road vacation was in the public interest, that there was a conflict of interest involving members of the Road and Bridge Department. Also amongst the suits complaints is that vacating the road served the private interests of Green Enterprises and M3, instead of the public interest.
First District Judge Cynthia K.C. Meyer found in favor of the Arns on Nov. 15, ruling the decision to vacate the road was not supported with substantial evidence, and that the commissioners exercised an “abuse of discretion” by cutting off a speaker during public comment.
The court then invited the commission to come up with a “more developed written decision for the county record.”
However, the Arns’ lawsuit is not the only court case involving Camp Bay Road. While many are concerned about the question of public access to the lake, neighbors have also voiced concerns about their ability to access their own property via the road.
The day before the Arns filed suit, on May 3, the Idaho Supreme Court filed an opinion in a suit between Green Enterprises and southerly neighbors Matthew and Bonnie Latvala regarding access to the Latvalas’ property via South Camp Bay Road.
“We do not oppose the development of the Green Enterprises property. However there should be some clarification that it may be premature. As indicated earlier there is a pending case,” said Bonnie Latvala on April 7. “I just want to ensure that our access rights aren’t impacted and that we do have continuing access to our property. And that it’s noted that our access rights might be impacted by the pending case that Camp Bay Road may be a public road.”
The Idaho Supreme Court case Latvala is referring to, Latvala vs. Green Enterprises Inc., is no longer pending. The opinion filed on May 3, rules that South Camp Bay Road functions as a prescriptive easement due to long-time use of the road during mining operations in the 1940s and 1950s.
An easement is the right to travel through private property. A prescriptive easement is where the right to travel over private property is gained through continuous open use for a long uninterrupted period of time.
“We affirm the district court’s determination that the use of the road at issue by Latvalas’ predecessors in interest during the active mining years (1946 to 1954) created a prescriptive easement;” the Supreme Court conclusion read. “However, we reverse the district court’s judgment expanding the scope of the easement. … and remand the case so that the district court may consider Latvala’s remaining claim about whether South Camp Bay Road is a public road.”
During the April 7 commissioners meeting, Latvala said Green Enterprises plans to use tax dollars to help cover costs related to the half-mile of Camp Bay Road in question.
“I would like to point out that there would be paving done on Camp Bay Road. If you look at the narrative, it indicates that a cost-sharing proposal will be submitted to the county,” Latvalla said.
In addition to the vacation, M3 ID Camp Bay LLC has partnered with the county to pave and create a storm management plan for the portion of road. County Commissioners granted the contracts on Aug. 24 and Nov. 9 respectively – costing the county a combined $1,608,236.59.
Many citizens have spoken at public meetings and private gatherings of how the road has a history of providing public access to the lake.
However, owners of the property also have historic ties to the land. With three generations of Green’s residing on the lakefront property, they maintain that the road has always been private, but that previous generations allowed neighbors to use the road to get to the lake.