Bowing to pressure from property rights groups, two Indian tribes and officials from five counties, the National Park Service has replaced the superintendent of Grand Coulee National Recreation Area.
Park Service officials say they are reassigning Superintendent Gerry Tays in hopes his replacement will get along better with locals.
Tays’ dogged enforcement of national park policies has raised hackles in the counties and Indian reservations surrounding Lake Roosevelt.
Tays’ detractors, as well as his supporters, say he would not be leaving if not for the intervention of U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, a member of the House subcommittee that controls the national parks budget.
“He was a very significant force in getting it done,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Ted Hopkins, a leading opponent of park policies.
“The upper echelon (of the Park Service) caved in to political pressure. Mr. Tays became a sacrifice to appease Mr. Nethercutt,” said Don Horton, a Spokane fisherman and conservationist who has championed Tays’ practices.
Nethercutt contacted officials at National Park Service headquarters last week to “relay the concerns” of Tays’ opponents, said the congressman’s spokesman, Ken Lisaius.
“The ultimate decision was made by the Park Service as to how to address those concerns,” Lisaius said.
Richard Winters, associate regional director of the Park Service, will take over Tays’ position until a permanent replacement is hired, said agency spokeswoman Nancy Stromsen.
A Park Service press release said Tays will be reassigned to the regional office in Seattle. Tays said that hasn’t yet been decided, and he may end up in San Francisco.
Among the groups opposing Tays was the Lake Roosevelt Property Owners Association, whose members are angry they must remove docks and other private structures built on the narrow strip of park land that separates their parcels from the lake.
About 40 of the docks were built with permits on the 135-mile reservoir since it was created with the completion of Grand Coulee Dam in 1941. Those permits won’t be renewed when they expire - this year in some cases and in 2001 in others.
Tays recently denied the association’s request for a five-year extension of the permits expiring this year, said president Keith Green. The association wanted to use the time to seek permanent approval for the docks.
“He was completely unbending,” said Green, of Spokane, who has a summer home on Lake Roosevelt.
Lincoln County officials squabbled with Tays over boat launching fees imposed last summer under congressional mandate. The Colville Confederated Tribes and Spokane Indian Tribe, both of which have reservations bordering the lake, disputed Tays’ authority over federally financed studies of native burial grounds.
And economic development groups wanted authority to build more marinas and other tourist facilities on the reservoir.
In most cases, Tays was following policies set by his bosses and had little leeway, said Stromsen. The deadline for removing the docks was set in 1990 by the previous park superintendent after public hearings on the matter.
“I don’t anticipate substantial changes as a result of this decision (to replace Tays),” she said. “But there will be a new person taking a fresh look” at the issues.
Tays said his actions were that of “a good foot soldier” following orders from above.
“The agency has not agreed with anybody that I have done anything wrong here,” said Tays, who is two years from retirement. “There’s nothing disciplinary about this at all.”
Nethercutt supported the superintendent in a meeting last August with many of his critics, said Horton and Tays. They believe the congressman changed his stance after receiving a letter last week from the newly formed Lake Roosevelt Council of Governments.
Commissioner Hopkins, who initiated the council, agreed, calling it “the major reason” Tays lost his job.
The letter announcing the group’s formation called the lake a “national asset,” but one that “belongs to the citizens of the region.” The group called for a greater voice in park policies.
Regulations enforced by Tays are “inconsistent with the best interest of adjacent local governments and their citizens,” the group wrote in its letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy and members of the state’s congressional delegation.
In addition to Hopkins, the letter is signed by one commissioner each from Stevens, Grant, Okanogan and Ferry counties. One council member from each of the two tribes also signed the letter.
It is not clear whether the various county commissions and tribal councils voted to join the coalition.