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Utility District Wins Land Use Suit Against State

A Methow Valley public utility district has won its long-running legal battle against a state agency over the route of new electric power lines. It's been nearly two decades since the Public Utility District Number 1 of Okanogan County decided to build a new high capacity power line from Pateros to Twisp to eliminate frequent power losses and outages.

But from the beginning, the utility district ran into environmental and legal hurdles, not the least of which was the Department of Natural Resources objection to running a new line over state school trust lands.

The final power line route from Pateros to Twisp required about 12 miles of right-of-way through land held by the DNR to generate money for Washington public schools. The land in question is currently leased for cattle grazing and generates about 3,000 dollars a year.

When the utility district applied for easement rights, DNR officials estimated a decision would take two to three months. It took more than five years, instead, languishing in bureaucratic limbo. Finally, the utility district moved to condemn the right-of-way acreage. But the DNR promptly sued, contending the district had no power to condemn school trust land owned by the state.

But following a series of lower court rulings over the years, the state's high court justices ruled Thursday that DNR does not have ultimate decision-making authority over the use of such lands.

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