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County Council approves eminent domain approach for Fall City trail

Members of the King County Council voted unanimously to pursue eminent domain ownership at a closed Snoqualmie Valley Trail access point in Fall City.

The council voted 9-0 on Monday, May 17, in Seattle, to force a sale to reopen a trail corridor connecting Fall City Community Park with the valley trail via 39th Place. The corridor is on former Weyerhaeuser land purchased by a group of buyers last fall. The county sought eminent domain after negotiations with the buyers fell through. Buyers had sought a paved road on the site.

"Now that the legislation has been approved, the county can take the next steps towards full public ownership," Councilwoman Kathy Lambert stated in an e-mail. "As soon as is it legally feasible, we will take action to have the ecology blocks and fencing removed so that the public can access the trail again."

"We are doing everything we can to restore public access," Lambert added.

Property owner Brian Wall said he and fellow owners plan to appeal the county's decision through the entire eminent domain process.

He countered arguments about traditional access through the property, arguing that the county cannot claim the trail "for convenience."

"They could have bought the property," Wall said. "We don't feel like we should be punished because we bought the property."

Wall since sealed off the entrance to the trail. Re-opening it "

"It would take King County to decide what they want to pay us or lease the easement from us for the public to have the right to go up there," he said.

Wall said owners are approaching the Washington State Attorney General's Office in an attempt to fight the forced sale.

"We don't want eminent domain," he said. "We want a permanent solution for the public, and ourselves, and the next property owner to have the right to use his property."

With passage, King County will make an offer to the property owners to purchase the land within the next few weeks. An appraisal is underway.

If property owners reject it, a judge will determine fair value.

"We feel we have a strong basis for pursuing eminent domain," said Christine Jensen, policy director for District 3 County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert. "We feel confident in our decision to take that route.

Twenty-two citizens spoke in favor of passage, while one property owner spoke against it. Attending the meeting were members of the Fall City Metro Parks District, Fall City Community Association, cyclists and equestrians.

Members of the Fall City park district had earlier urged trail users to speak at the county meeting.

Parks District President Kirk Harris said the district supports county efforts to acquire the land.

"It's been a subject in our meetings for months now," Harris said. "We appreciate that the county is taking a systematic approach."

The trail connection has been a public use for years. With negotiations stalled, Harris said eminent domain is the next avenue.

"It's the tool that municipalities use to secure rights of way for the public."

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