Jefferson County’s Massive Rural Land Grab Overturned

In a major victory against uncompensated government seizure of private property in Washington State, Pacific Legal Foundation today announced that the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board has struck down a Jefferson County policy that illegally put a “freeze” on the use of thousands of acres of private property near rivers and streams in Jefferson County.

Responding to a challenge brought by PLF attorneys, the Hearings Board found the County’s “channel migration zone” (CMZ) regulations in violation of the Growth Management Act. Adopted in March, 2008, these regulations essentially “roped off” large areas of land on either side of local rivers and streams, prohibiting landowners from using or developing the property, and ordering that it be set aside as “natural vegetation.”

Brian T. Hodges
PLF Attorney

The County argued that any land that a river or stream might occupy over the next 100 years (by veering from its current course) should be designated a “critical area” where development would be prohibited. “However, county officials didn’t offer credible scientific evidence to justify the vast areas – thousands of acres – that they wanted to lock away as no-development areas,” said Brian T. Hodges, an attorney with PLF’s Pacific Northwest Center in Bellevue. “When bureaucrats try to deprive people of the use of vast areas of land that they own, they need to rely on verifiable studies, not speculation.”

Although the Hearings Board decided the case primarily on the County’s lack of scientific basis for its regulations, Hodges notes that a constitutional challenge remains viable. “When government prohibits people from using their own property, they must be reimbursed – but landowners affected by the channel migration regulations weren’t offered a penny in compensation. That’s unfair – and unconstitutional.” PLF is the nation’s leading watchdog organization for property rights. PLF attorneys successfully challenged the channel migration zone regulations on behalf of the Olympic Stewardship Foundation, a nonprofit group of citizens from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

“This is a day of immense satisfaction for all of us who have toiled faithfully against these property rights abuses in Jefferson County,” said Jim Hagen, president of the Olympic Stewardship Foundation. “Pacific Legal Foundation’s legal victories, like this one, against confiscatory regulations, have played a substantial role in keeping our property rights intact in a hostile climate.”

“Because of PLF’s victory at the Hearings Board, an outrageous government theft of private land has been halted in Jefferson County,” said PLF’s Hodges.

The case is Olympic Stewardship Foundation v. Jefferson County. A copy of the ruling is available at PLF’s Web site.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Headquartered in Sacramento, PLF ( is the oldest and most successful public interest legal organization that litigates for property rights, limited government, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country.


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