Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene of an unarmed standoff in Longbranch on the morning of Jan. 25 to settle a dispute over private road use by Boehme and Sons Logging Co.
With logging permit in hand from the Department of Natural Resources, owner-operator J.D. Boehme said he had no idea his truck would be blocked from continuing down Whiteman Cove Road on route to his new job site at YMCA Camp Colman. Neighboring property owner Terry Cook used his own truck to block the road and informed Boehme the YMCA “is not welcome to use the private portions of Whiteman Cove Road for their logging operation.”
Boehme argued that Whiteman Cove Road is a public road and suggested Cook move his truck out of the way. Cook flatly refused. Armed with cellphones, both men dialed 911. In the end, it took two deputies and the eventual arrival of Sgt. Tom Seymour to negotiate an end to the nearly two-hour-long standoff.
The YMCA of Greater Seattle owns and operates Camp Colman on the shores of Case Inlet, where staff have noticed trees in distress in the forest over the last several years. The YMCA consulted Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG), a nonprofit forestry management company that works with smaller woodland owners to develop ecologically based plans to sustainably manage their private forests.
“We want to be good stewards of our forest and of our environment as a whole,” said Meredith Cambre, executive director of the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
Cook and his wife, Pam, own a 5-acre parcel adjacent to Camp Colman and have been questioning the YMCA forest plans since Jan. 10, 2016, when Cook discovered an uninvited truck parked in his driveway and later found the driver, Rick Helman, a forestry planner for NNRG. The encounter was the first time Cook had heard about intended logging at Camp Colman.
“That was also the first time I was aware of willful trespassing on my private property by the YMCA and their contractors, but it would not be the last,” Cook said.
Cambre sent an email to Cook Dec. 7, 2016, which said, in part:
“We believe, upon recent inspection, that the driveway you are using to access your property is on YMCA property. We are doing a survey to verify the exact location of our property line. In the meantime, our CEO, Bob Gilbertson, is willing to work out an interim use agreement so that you can cross our property to access yours. Until we can enter such an agreement with you, we need to deny you access to use our property, and we will be securing the gate across the driveway to protect our property rights. Please contact Bob or myself to discuss the next steps.”
The next day Cook returned home to find a local YMCA staff member posting a no trespassing sign from inside Cook’s closed gate. The sign read: “Property of YMCA Camp Colman—No Trespassing.”
Cook used his cellphone to record video of the scene. He is confident the final property line boundary survey ordered by the YMCA will confirm his driveway does not encroach on land belonging to Camp Colman.
After studying the original YMCA application filed with the DNR, Cook said he spotted numerous red flags. “For starters, the haul route noted in the application included planned use of privately owned and maintained roads,” he said. He went on to question how NNRG could have claimed there were no unstable soils in the harvest area, no mention of high risk for erosion, and no mention of the presence of an aquifer recharge zone, and he began to suspect an overestimate of the level of decay within the 100-year-old forest.
“By law, DNR does not have jurisdiction over other agencies’ roads or private roads,” said Aileen Nichols, the DNR forest practices forester who issued approval of an amended YMCA forest plan. “The DNR is still able to approve those applications because it is the responsibility of the landowner to know their legal access roads.”
“During the review of the initial forest plan for Camp Colman, some concerns were discovered with potentially unstable slopes. That permit was disapproved. The landowner hired a geologist and the areas of concern were eliminated from the project application,” Nichols said. She stated the harvest permit issued is to remove dead, dying and damaged trees to increase safety around the camp and improve the health of the surrounding forest. The harvest plan includes a 33-acre unit where up to 30 percent of the volume will be removed by thinning out dangerous and diseased trees. The second unit of 7 1/2 acres may have up to 25 percent of the volume removed.
Ingress and egress to Camp Colman is located on Bay Road, which runs along the north side of Whiteman Cove. The YMCA intended to utilize existing roads closest to their harvest area on the south side of the cove, where the bulk of its property is located.
A private meeting of the Whiteman Cove Homeowners Association, closed to the press, was held Feb. 9 to discuss the issue of easements and mitigation opportunities for any damage to the private roads that may be used by logging trucks. The association narrowly voted against granting the YMCA its desired road access by a vote of 6-5, according to multiple attendees who declined to be identified for this article. They said continued negotiation between the YMCA and the association is anticipated in coming weeks.