Lake Roosevelt
Administrative History
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Regaining Ground: Leases and Special Use Permits

Many types of special use permits and leases soon will be a thing of the past at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LARO). Once considered a useful way to encourage development and use of federally owned lands, they are now seen as encouraging privatization of public lands. Over the years, such permits have allowed individuals and companies to use Lake Roosevelt shore lands for industrial, agricultural, and recreational activities. Applications for special use permits began before the National Park Service had even taken responsibility for the recreational development of the new reservoir, and uses gradually multiplied in the ensuing decades. Along with permitted activities came illegal use of federal lands, either through encroachment (an unauthorized use of public lands) or trespass (a more serious violation that usually is handled through the legal process). The problem with encroachments can be attributed partially to the physical configuration of the park, a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the high-water line and a largely unmarked boundary generally twenty feet higher in elevation. Lack of consistent policies and enforcement also contributed to the eventual proliferation of encroachment cases. Park Service philosophy and policies changed by the 1980s to restrict special uses on park lands. When LARO began to revise its policies to bring them into conformance with Park Service guidelines, the park met strong resistance from permittees, adjacent property owners, and local officials. The resulting struggle tested wills, tempers, and managerial skills and ultimately changed the appearance and operating philosophy of the park. [1]

Developing Policy for Special Park Uses, 1940s

As a general policy it is agreed that a special use of the Reservoir Area by an individual is a privilege and not a right, and that each special use must be justified in the public interest. Inquiries proposing apparent detrimental uses of the Area will be rejected by the Park Service without the formality of preparing standard applications.

-- Claude E. Greider, NPS Recreation Planner, April 23, 1943

Requests for special use permits began arriving before water filled the newly cleared reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. At that time, the Park Service was working on field studies and initial plans for the recreation area, but it had not yet been assigned the job of development and administration. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation continued to administer the area until the two agencies signed a memorandum of agreement in July 1942. During negotiations for the interagency agreement, Reclamation insisted that all funds generated by special use permits go to a special account to benefit the Columbia Basin Project. [2]

Even after the agreement was signed, the Park Service did not immediately take over the administration of special use permits. In August 1942, Landscape Architect Philip Kearney, the sole Park Service employee then at the reservoir, reported that there had been several applications for permits in the past few days, including one for a sawmill and tramway at Kettle Falls on lands considered for recreational development. F. A. Banks, Reclamation Supervising Engineer, was pressuring the Park Service to handle these permits, but Kearney did not yet have either authority or a formal policy. He appealed to the regional office for help. Claude E. Greider, Park Service Recreation Planner and later first LARO Superintendent, suggested that Kearney send all applications to the Regional Director with a full report and recommendations. When considering the sawmill application, he should assess the need for a mill in that location, the integrity of the applicant, and the possibility of finding an alternate location that would not compromise recreational values. [3]

Greider's arrival at the reservoir in late December 1942 doubled the Park Service staff in the area. He took over administrative responsibilities and by early 1943 had developed guidelines for special use permits. Greider's primary concerns were that no special use should conflict with Reclamation's primary project needs or the Park Service's plans for recreational development. He laid out a general policy with the underlying premise that a special use of federal land was a privilege instead of a right. Did it contribute to needs of area residents economically, socially, or for recreation? Was it safe and fair? Would it set a bad precedent? What were the potential effects on wildlife and scenery? Was there an area outside the reservoir that would fill the applicant's need equally well? [5]

Special use permit fees, 1943:

Minimum fee$5
Private boat dock$5
Commercial boat dock$25
Boat and barge construction
   Pleasure craft$5
   Commercial craft$25
Boat service
   Gas and oil$10
   Gas, oil, supplies, boat storage$50
   Sheep5 cents/head/month
   Cattle and horses25 cents/head/month
Watering stock with necessary fencing$5
Livestock drift fence$5
Pumping plant and pipe line
   Private, domestic and irrigation$5
   Public, town or resort$25
Agriculture, cultivation$2/acre but not less than $5 total
Log dump and log loading$25[8]

During the next year, Greider worked on both the permit application form and a schedule of fees, both of which needed Reclamation approval. After the form worked its way through various levels of bureaucracy, Banks informed Greider in April 1944 that it had been approved and he would soon be receiving five hundred mimeographed copies. The only major change was the deletion of grazing and agricultural permits for lands adjoining reservations pending determination of Indian rights to these areas. The Reclamation counsel also added a standard clause releasing the United States from responsibility for any damage the permittee might incur from fluctuating lake levels. The initial fee schedule covering six possible uses quickly expanded to eleven as requests rolled in during 1943. Greider recommended the fees apply to permits of one year or less, with applicants having the option to renew for an additional four years. He believed that anything longer than five years needed to be covered under a license, lease, or easement, with the fee based on the current value of the land. [6]

The 1946 Tri-Party Agreement mandated that the Park Service take primary responsibility for special use permits involving federal lands and waters. The agency was instructed to issue permits for legitimate industrial and recreational purposes, along with agricultural and grazing uses, for lands in the Coulee Dam Recreational Area. The Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), however, handled all agricultural, grazing, and log dump permits in the Indian Zones. The Park Service also assumed responsibility for all permits and leases issued by Reclamation to date. Each permit had to contain clauses to protect Reclamation from responsibility for damages and to place the interests of the Columbia Basin Project above all other uses. Finally, all payments collected by the Park Service were to be deposited into a special account that was conveyed periodically to Reclamation. [7]

Although the two agencies discussed transferring all special use permits to the Park Service in 1943, LARO did not assume full administrative control until 1947. The transfer eliminated the need for Reclamation's concurrence on any permits. The Park Service notified all permittees and leaseholders of this change. The administration of permits was not as well coordinated between LARO and OIA, however, and in May 1950 two LARO rangers met with the Superintendent of the Colville Agency to discuss his policy of allowing use of Indian Zone lands without permits. "This inconsistency in administration of area lands has caused us some embarrassment with the public," admitted Superintendent Greider. The two agencies took steps to apply permit policies more consistently. [9]

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Last Updated: 22-Apr-2003