Natural Resources and Environment:

Lands in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area Should Be Returned to Private Ownership

CED-81-10: Published: Jan 22, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1981.

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GAO was requested to examine the land acquisition and management practices of the National Park Service (NPS) at Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Through the law which established this area, it was congressional intent that land acquisition costs be minimal, that a private community in the recreation area continue to exist, that commercial development not be eliminated, and that additional compatible development be permitted to accommodate increased visitor use.

NPS has not acted in accordance with congressional intent. NPS has spent millions of dollars to acquire over half of the privately owned land in the recreation area. Moreover, it plans to acquire most of the area's remaining privately owned land. These additional land acquisitions are planned without a clear definition of the uses that are incompatible with the enabling legislation. The acquisitions are based on the premise that NPS must acquire the major areas subject to subdivision to prevent a prospective boom in recreational homesites. NPS has also prohibited new private commercial development to increase lodging accommodations and to provide needed restaurant and grocery services for both residents and visitors.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs should hold oversight hearings to determine why NPS has not carried out the intent of Congress at the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Sufficient time has elapsed for Congress to have taken action.

    Matter: Congress should not increase the statutory land acquisition appropriation ceiling for the North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area above the $4.5 million already approved until NPS has defined compatible and incompatible development, prepared a land acquisition plan justifying the need to acquire land from private owners, and spent the funds obtained from selling all compatible land back to private individuals.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Sufficient time has elapsed for Congress to have taken action. Congress has not increased the appropriations ceiling.

    Matter: Congress should exempt land acquired pursuant to P.L. 90-544 from the 2-year limitation in 16 U.S.C. 4601-22(a). This would give the last owner(s) the right to match the highest bid price and reacquire property sold to NPS.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Sufficient time has passed for Congress to have taken action.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to sell back to the highest bidder, including previous owners or other private individuals, all lands compatible with the recreation area. This would include the modest homes, lodges, and restaurant. NPS could attach scenic or developmental restrictions to the deeds before the properties are resold to ensure that their use will be consistent with the enabling legislation. The proceeds would be credited to the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the U.S. Treasury. Funds obtained in this manner would then be available for future acquisitions if an incompatible use is identified, subject to the $4.5 million appropriation ceiling on total acquisitions under P.L. 90-544.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior did not agree with this recommendation and does not plan to take any action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop a land acquisition plan for the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area consistent with the NPS April 26, 1979, land acquisition policy. The plan should: (1) define compatible and incompatible uses based on the legislative history; (2) clarify the criteria for condemnation; (3) identify the reasons for fee simple acquisition versus alternative land protection and management strategies, such as scenic easements and zoning; (4) address recreational development plans for the area; and (5) establish acquisition priorities. The plan should apply to both private and NPS actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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