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Inland Boy Scouts council contributes to national abuse settlement

By Fred Willenbrock For The Spokesman-Review

DIAMOND LAKE, Wash. – For the past few years, the melancholy sound of a lone bugler playing taps at Camp Cowles before sunset hasn’t been heard.

But the recent legal settlements totaling $850 million involving Boy Scouts councils across the country to resolve 82,500 claims of sexual abuse could pave the way to resume camps and begin to give closure for thousands of victims.

The Inland Northwest Council’s $164,963 contribution is one of the lowest of the 250 local councils in the nation. Many contributed $2 million, and some up to $10 million. The Chief Seattle council in the Puget Sound, for example, agreed to pay $7.5 million as part of the complex settlement scheduled to be approved by creditors and the bankruptcy court sometime in October.

“As part of the Boy Scouts of America’s financial restructuring, the specific contributions each local council will make to help fund the Trust for survivors was filed with the Court,” according to a news release from the Boy Scouts of America national headquarters in Irving, Texas. “These figures were determined through a combination of information filed in the claims process and what local councils could meaningfully contribute while ensuring scouting can continue in their areas.”

The Boy Scouts have said they are committed to fulfilling their “social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate survivors.”

The Inland council had canceled all regular programs during the summers at Camp Cowles and some residents feared COVID-19 restrictions and the sexual abuse lawsuit’s unknown cost was the end of the historic camp.

“Our contribution to the settlement will not result in the divestiture of any of our camps or other properties being used as part of the program, and the future is bright for our council and the program,” said Steve Anderson, incoming president who is currently vice president of the council.

This camp and the other two owned by the council aren’t closing and have plans for major capital investment .

Anderson has been a board member for 15 years, regularly attending Camp Cowles. Recently, his 14-year-old son became an Eagle Scout.

Anderson is also vice president of legal affairs and risk management for the council. He has been the council’s representative during the settlement negotiations.

The amounts for each council were based on assets and number of valid claims. Anderson said he could not release the number of claims they had but they were low compared to the other regions of the country.

Although knowing what they will contribute will make it easier to start planning the future of the camps, the reduced use of Camp Cowles was more due to pandemic restrictions for group gatherings than fear of settlement payments, Anderson said.

The council’s assets have been legally protected for years from liability claims. They are held in endowments and leases that the council doesn’t directly control.

“Even though we aren’t subject to the lawsuit, we agreed to pay,” he said.

But according to statements to the court by attorneys for abuse victims, the local councils prior to this settlement weren’t out of the woods.

The victims’ attorneys had argued from the start that they would go after properties and assets owned by local councils to contribute to a settlement fund. The local councils, which run day-to-day operations for local troops, are not debtors in the bankruptcy and are considered legally separate entities by the BSA, even though they share insurance policies and are considered “related parties” in the bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy, filed in February 2020, has been tangled in disputes over the provision of financial information by local councils, BSA’s claims that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of its own assets are restricted and unavailable to abuse victims, and insurers’ concerns about the validity of tens of thousands of claims.

Anderson declined to release the value of the Inland Northwest assets.

BSA sought bankruptcy protection to halt hundreds of lawsuits and create a compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.

The Inland council is joined with the remainder of the councils nationwide as an ad hoc group to join into the bankruptcy in an attempt to ensure that cases and possible claims that may exist can be resolved. The goal is to ensure any claims from past abuse are resolved while at the same time preserving the program and mission being served by BSA can be carried out.

After several months of negotiation, an agreement was reached, and all councils have agreed to join the settlement. The settlement was approved by the bankruptcy court.

The final action should come sometime in October.

Anderson said the Inland council will pay their share from funds raised by the sale of an unused piece of property. He declined to give the location of the property.

Projects planned

Other camps used by the Inland council, including, Camp Easton on Lake Coeur d’Alene and Camp Grizzly in Harvard, Idaho, are both undertaking upgrades. Idaho’s rules allowed summer camps to occur while Washington’s rules were much more restrictive during the pandemic. Camp Easton and Camp Grizzly ran summer camps in 2020 and 2021, working closely with the Panhandle Health District to ensure compliance with COVID recommendations.

“Camp Cowles is undergoing quite a bit of revitalization that will continue over the next couple years,” Anderson said. “Some of it has been deferred maintenance.”

They also are planning some new public uses of the 906-acre site and buildings to generate revenue for its future operations. A public campground, wedding venue and business retreat are being studied. They offer these at their Idaho camps now.

The board has authorized several projects at Camp Cowles that will be completed during the next two years, Anderson said.

They include replacement of the boat docks, remodeling the ranger’s house with an eye toward making it available for both program and short-term rental, and revitalization and updates of the main lodge.

This summer workers completed several projects that included filling and grading the parking lot, upgrading the shower and bathroom facilities, construction of a year-round bunkhouse and the creation of a public campground.

Both Idaho camps also have been improved. Projects include new upgraded shower houses and bathrooms, constructing and installing new docks as well as several new and upgraded structures for program and staff housing.

Camp Grizzly had a major renovation on the lodge and dining hall last year, receiving a fully remodeled commercial kitchen, paint, flooring and other upgrades. Camp Easton’s dining hall will be renovated. .

“The long-term plan is to create a property that is available primarily to continue to expand upon the focus of scouting, but at the same time be able to create a property that can be rented for use by corporate and other nonprofit organizations,” Anderson said.

Aftermath of settlementThe settlement includes the creation of a “child protection committee” designed to ensure safety for scouts in future.

Seeking to address some of the objections, the BSA updated its plan with balance sheet summaries for local councils and appraisals on properties they own.

The Boy Scouts previously said the councils would contribute at least $425 million into a trust for abuse victims and would assign certain insurance rights in return for being released from further liability.

“We want to underscore that local councils are legally separate, distinct, and financially independent from the national organization,” the BSA said in a statement.

According to the court filings, the councils have combined net assets of about $3.3 billion, but that amount includes $1.4 billion in assets that are considered restricted and thus not available to creditors.

Attorneys for BSA have estimated that between $2.4 billion and $7.1 billion, including insurance rights, might be available for abuse victims. The official tort claimants committee, which is charged with acting as a fiduciary for all abuse victims, estimates the value of some 82,500 sexual abuse claims at about $103 billion.

Funds to support the national organization of the Boy Scouts of America come from registration fees, local council service fees, investment income, Boys’ Life magazines, sale of uniforms and equipment, and contributions from individuals.

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