Life in the Columbia River Gorge...
The Brian Bea Story
Sometimes we are put into situations to challenge us, to make us better people, or to help change something that is already existing. I believe that all of these situations apply to Brian and I. Our story is a long one, but when this battle does end, the story will have a happy ending.
It all began the day Brian and I first started dating. I remember the day like it was yesterday. He took me up to this place past his parents' home. We drove down a steep bank, past some berry bushes that reached over the truck, and then to a stunning spot. I got out of the truck and stood on a tree stump and marveled at the beauty. Brian looked at me and said, "This is where I want to raise my family. I grew up right here and can't imagine a better place." Well, time moved on, and Brian and I found ourselves engaged to be married. We knew that once we were married we would be moving away and we had heard horrible stories about trying to get a building permit in the Gorge.
So, we applied to the Gorge Commission (back in that time, the Gorge Commission issued permits) and had them out to look at the property. Brian was away in the military, so I had the privilege of showing them around. They seemed to love the place. I showed them exactly where we wanted to build the house, the shop, and the barn. They told me that they didn't see any problem with us getting the permit, however, we needed to get 5 more acres to make the place a 40-acre parcel. This was no problem since family lived all around us and Brian's uncle gave us the acreage we needed. We soon were married and had to leave the beautiful Gorge.
We landed in the Rocky Mountains where Brian could finish up his residency program. We loved it there, but missed home. The following year found us in the Midwest, where Brian practiced in a rural setting. The people were wonderful there, as was the experience. Something, however, wasn't right. The day came when Brian couldn't stand it any more. He loved the Midwest and the people, but home was calling him. An opportunity in Oregon opened up and we dived on it like Seagulls. It was our chance to get a little closer to home. Oregon was a great change. Brian had a great job practicing at a family care clinic and I was working for one of the local schools.
There were many things to do and see on the Oregon coast it seemed. However, instead of staying in Oregon, we found ourselves traveling home every weekend. The drive was about 4 hours. We did this drive for about a year. The car had a lot of miles on it and we were just flat out tired of making the drive. So we made the decision to move home. The doors opened up for jobs and so it seemed the right time. Brian's parents allowed us to stay with them at their house until we were ready to move up to our place.
We started the process of trying to get the permits. We contacted the Gorge Commission since we went through them the first time. They came out and looked at the spot once again. We were contemplating doing a cluster development, but one had never been approved. We spoke with the Commission about cluster developments and a single family dwelling home site. They assured us that a single-family dwelling site would be no problem. The Gorge Commission informed us that we needed to go through the county since permits were now issued through them. The Commission planner felt we would have no problem building where we wanted to, at the same site as before. So we applied to Skamania County. The County came out and reviewed the site, walked everywhere on the land, and told us what we needed to do. We did what the county asked, and all the necessary papers were filed to receive our building permits. Then came the appeal and waiting period. These came and went without one appeal being filed. We celebrated! We couldn't believe that we were finally ready to build.
The building process started. We started work on our shop due to the fact that it was cheaper to build and that we could live in it while the house was being constructed, as it was written in the Director's Decision. But things didn't work out that way. We soon found out that we would be expecting our first child. We hurriedly put the shop up and tried to get the inside done, but soon we realized time was running out. We decided to rent a home in town while the building process continued. Then the lumber prices dropped; we couldn't wait anymore. Brian met with a designer and showed him exactly what we wanted. We took it to the County and soon got our building permit for the house.
Up went the basement, then the main floor, and then the loft. Now I must tell you, the county approved everything that we were doing. We wouldn't have done what we did without their approval. It was great watching our dreams become reality. When the roof was being finished, we received a phone message from the Gorge Commission stating that they would like to come out to the building site and look around.
Now, if you live in the Gorge, you know that the Gorge Commission is up to something when they have signed off on everything and want to come and look around. The next day, the paper had an article written on us. We also received a letter from the Commission, again stating they would like to look at the place. We didn't know what to do, and we were devastated. We contacted lawyers for answers and counsel. The big bills started coming in. We were also spinning around trying to get the house protected before winter came. That meant winterproofing the house before the Commission came in and shut everything down.
Our lives had now become a media circus. We were in the paper daily, sharing headlines with the President and Monica Lewinski. We attended meetings and spoke to many people who supported us. At this time, we were informed of a non-profit lawyer firm, Pacific Legal Foundation, that helps people in our situation. I contacted them daily, and sent them tons of paperwork and they finally agreed to take our case. It seemed that instead of a dream coming true, we were facing nightmares around every corner.
The next ordeal was that we had to go in front of the Gorge Commission for a trial. We already knew that we had lost this battle. The 12 Gorge Commission members play the role of judge, juror, and executioner. Their boss, or person they look to for answers is the Director, the man who initiated our nightmare. We lost that battle, but soon faced a new one at the superior court level. We felt a little more confidant this time in front of Judge Ladley. We figured him to be a fair individual who would look at the real issue of permit finality. He didn't. He ruled right from the bench without even batting an eye. His explanation for ruling that way was that he knew this case was going up to the Washington State Supreme Court. Judge Ladley stated that his decision would not matter, so therefore he ruled in favor of the Gorge Commission's decision. We were stunned.
In the meantime, we were expecting the arrival of our second child. Our children bring much pleasure to our lives even when facing something so unpleasant. Brian who has been working the equivalent of two full time jobs a month to pay for the extra expenses caused by our situation, finds that his boys bring him back to reality and what is really important. After Thanksgiving this year, we found ourselves in the Washington State Supreme Court. Our lawyers felt it went well. I don't like to judge court proceedings anymore. I just pray that truth will prevail. We know it will. Even if it takes heading to the United States Supreme Court.
We are now expecting the birth of our third child who will arrive at the end of July. We are still renting a house in town and paying for two mortgages and other expenses accumulated with having an empty house. Our story is tragic but there are many more that have it worse. We feel blessed that we have our health, good jobs, and a roof over our head. Each day when we are feeling sad for ourselves, God shows us something worse. Like a young man diagnosed with terminal cancer, a family who lost everything because Daddy was fired from work when he was trying to take care of his sick and dying wife, or even closer to home, a friend with three young children and reoccurring breast cancer.
Our battle has lasted 3 years and is still ongoing. What started out as a dream has turned into a fight over property vs. environmental rights, Oregon vs. Washington, and the Gorge Commission vs. Skamania County. We've become the poster children for many issues. The facts still remain though; we did what was required of us. We obtained our permits, signatures, and blessings on everything necessary for building our house and everything around it on property that has been in the family for generations. The media has done its best to deny the truth. Eventually the truth will show how foolish and inappropriate they have been in writing about our case.
We are grateful for all the support we have received and hope that we are representing all property owners in a beneficial way. I believe that the pendulum is starting to swing in a way that will benefit the property owners of the Gorge. I think our case, its notoriety, and our pain is reaching out and making people aware of the terrible turmoil and problems in the Columbia River Gorge. I see Gail Castle's victory as a result of not only our house situation, but of the great people in the Gorge, standing together to make a difference. It is our hope that other families will not have to suffer as we have, and that our current struggles will not be in vain.
This story provided by Gorge Reality.
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