Brothers sue state to run ferry on Lake Chelan

SPOKANE — The state argued Thursday that two brothers have no legal right to establish a competing ferry service to the remote town of Stehekin in the Cascade Range.

The family that operates a ranch-style resort in Stehekin, which is reachable only by boat, floatplane or on foot, has sued the state Transportation Commission, arguing that a nearly century-old law governing ferry operations has resulted in a government-imposed monopoly on Lake Chelan.

“Establishing ferries is the prerogative of the state, not a private right,” said Fronda Woods, an assistant attorney general representing the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which has asked U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice to dismiss the lawsuit.

Rice heard arguments from both sides on Thursday and then said he would rule at a later date.

Attorney Michael Bindas, representing brothers Jim and Cliff Courtney, said they wanted a better way to bring customers to their businesses in Stehekin.

The Courtney brothers argue that preventing them from operating a competing ferry violates their right to use the navigable waters of the United States, which is protected by the 14th Amendment.

“We didn’t fight the Civil War for the right to go canoeing,” Bindas, who works for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm based in Arlington, Va., said.

He said there should be no government limit on the number of ferry operators on the scenic 55-mile long mountain lake.

Stehekin is a popular vacation spot among people who relish its pristine beauty and isolation: There is little telephone service and no roads lead to the town. Most visitors travel up the lake on a ferry operated by the same company since 1929.

The boat leaves from Chelan, at the south end of the lake, each morning during the summer and less frequently in the winter.

Some of Stehekin’s 80 residents have long complained that the schedule doesn’t best serve them or visitors to their community and want to provide a ferry service of their own. But they’ve been thwarted by a state law requiring potential operators to obtain a certificate showing the public need for service.

The Courtney brothers, whose family operates the Stehekin Valley Ranch, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Spokane seeking to overturn that regulation. The Courtneys have failed four times to get a certificate to operate an alternative service.

The Lake Chelan Boat Co. has had the exclusive right since 1929 to provide ferry service on Lake Chelan and carries about 25,000 passengers each year.

In 2009, state lawmakers directed the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to study the ferry service on Lake Chelan, after some residents complained. But the commission ruled that the current service ensures basic, year-round passenger transportation between and Chelan and surrounding communities that have no alternative options.

More in Local News

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Lynnwood man allegedly cuts Marysville’s 911 dispatch wires

The man reportedly told police he intended to trade the wires for drugs.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Most Read