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Wash. Scouts council faces $1.6 million debt

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Boy Scouts of America Grand Columbia Council could face restructuring or dissolution if progress isn’t made soon on cutting its $1.6 million debt, a scout executive said this week.

The council accrued most of its debt around 2005 after state inspectors required the council to overhaul its water filtration, sewage and electrical systems at Camp Fife south of State Route 410 west of Yakima near the community of Goose Prairie, Grand Columbia Council CEO Robert Fawcett said.

Fawcett said the council has appealed to donors, listed about $2 million worth of Central Washington properties for sale and loaned itself $400,000 from its own $600,000 endowment to cover the debt, but progress has been nearly stagnant as loan interest continues to mount.

”National could come in and break up the council,” Fawcett said. ”Our board and executive directors are aware that’s a possibility.”

If a shake-up at the top were to occur, Fawcett said Scouts in any of the council’s six districts likely wouldn’t be effected in their regular program activities.

A spokesman for the national council said there is no consensus on how to resolve the Grand Columbia Council’s debt issues, leaving many options on the table. The spokesman said he could not elaborate on what options are being considered.

”There are a lot of different ways this could roll,” David Burke, a Dallas-based spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said. ”The national council is continuing to work to see what’s in the best interest of the Scouts in (Central Washington.)”

The council was formed by a merger of other Central Washington councils in the early 1990s and covers all scout programs in Yakima, Kittitas, Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties, as well as portions of Adams, Benton, Ferry and Klickitat counties. Fawcett said responsibility for the areas — and potentially the remaining debt — could be split among neighboring councils if the Grand Columbia Council were to be dissolved, but the national council spokesman said he wouldn’t speculate on any scenarios.

Burke said a change in at least one volunteer leadership position — that of council president — would come in January to the Grand Columbia Council, and national executives are hoping the new bloods will have more success than their predecessors. He said there is no exact timeline for measuring the progress or determining the fate of the regional council.

Fawcett said outgoing council president Dr. Michael Murphy, a retired physician who has been president the last four years and also served a term as president in the 1990s, chose to leave and his departure has no connection to the council’s debt troubles.

Some sign of progress may already be on the horizon with the Community Foundation of North Central Washington working on a purchase and sale agreement worth $500,000 for council property at the Scout-A-Vista camp near Wenatchee, the foundation’s executive director said.

Executive director Beth Stipe said the Community Foundation will begin to raise the money once an agreement is finalized and would then rent the property to the Boy Scouts of America for $1 a year on a 99-year lease.

”Some community leaders were concerned with their plan to put properties on the market,” Stipe said. ”They wanted to make sure this property was available to the youth in Central Washington in perpetuity.”

Fawcett said inspectors from the state Department of Health required a new water filtration system for Camp Fife, which gets its drinking water from nearby Strawberry Creek, and the state Department of Labor Industries required much of the camp’s outdated electrical system to be re-wired and have its World War II-era diesel generators replaced with propane generators. Officials from both agencies confirmed inspections and correction orders were issued for the camp in the same time period Fawcett described.

”We didn’t mind being looked at, the people who do inspections were making sure we’re running a safe place,” he said.

The Grand Columbia Council had just completed a new dining hall on the campsite that cost $4 million around the same time as the need for improvements were discovered between 2004 and 2005, Fawcett said.

”When the council planned to build the dining hall they didn’t plan to be in this position at all,” Fawcett said. ”Nor do I think they expected the increased operational expenses in having a new facility.”

Other properties listed for sale include two parcels near Scout-A-Vista totaling more than 100 acres appraised at $562,000; 100 aces at Summit Lake camp near Wauconda for $252,000; 22 acres across from Camp Bonaparte for $105,000; and the council’s 11,000-square-foot office building in Yakima for $1.2 million.

Fawcett said council executives believe selling the office building in Yakima would go the longest way in retiring the council’s debt and would offset the expenses of running the building. The council would intend to rent the building from the buyer if one is found, Fawcett said.

The national spokesman Burke said it’s not unusual for regional councils to sell unused or under-utilized properties that can become a financial liability, and each has its own authority and reasons for making that decision.

”It’s hard to know exactly what the motivation for making a sale is when every council has different circumstances,” Burke said.

The circumstances and end goal couldn’t be any more clear for Fawcett.

”We want to make sure scouting remains independent in Central Washington,” he said.