Everybody who has been around Lake Chelan has wondered about the Three Fingers between Lakeside and the Lady of the Lake on Highway 97A. Most folks wonder why they are vacant. If you’ve also wondered about how shorelines protection in Washington State got kicked off, the Three Fingers were a part of that story too!
Over 35 years ago, there were actually 4 fingers, which were landfills created along the shoreline by property owners whose property was submerged by the construction of the dam. When Lake Chelan was raised 21 feet in the 1920′s by Washington Water Power to allow construction of the Chelan dam, the power company purchased the flood rights (but not title) to the platted lands along the shoreline of Lake Chelan.
The Cabanas along the North Shore of Lake Chelan are examples of property where the owners hold title to the land below the high water mark and built usable structures over their land despite the fact that it is flooded when the lake is up part of the year.
The 4th Finger was owned by Norm and Ruth Gallagher of Chelan and was the subject of a Washington State Supreme Court case. in the late 1960′s. Goodfellows, of Goodfellows Construction, owned title to the land now known as the Three Fingers. In the mid 1960′s Goodfellow Construction of Wenatchee was widening the highway along the south shore of Lake Chelan and had tremendous amounts of dirt and rock to dispose of because the work included cutting deep into the slope along the shore’s edge.
So, they hauled rock and fill material from the highway construction project and build up the landfills. The unfilled spaces between the fingers represent public streets and/or rights-of-way that were, and remain, owned by the City of Chelan.
The Gallaghers decided that they too would like to make use of their flooded property and made a similar fill on their land as well as constructing a 25 foot concrete retaining wall on the east and front sides to hold the fill material. The neighbors, Chet Green and Chuck Wilbur, who lived on the west of the Gallagher’s Trailer Court found themselves with a 25′ high concrete wall about 80 feet in front of their waterfront homes. The Green and Wilbur homes are highlighted in purple on the GoLakeChelan.com map above.
The law suit that ensued was known as “Wilbur versus Gallagher.” By decision of the court, Gallagher was required to remove his retaining wall and landfill which occurred in 1970 and 1971.
The Goodfellows were not a party to the legal battle with Green & Wilbur, so their “Three Fingers” still exist.
The “Green-Wilbur versus Gallagher” landmark Supreme Court decision set in motion legal and political forces that later helped create the Washington State Shoreline Management Act which was the start of a series of property rights legislation that have impacted land use nationwide.
But why are the Three Fingers still vacant? According to Jerry Isenhart at GoLakeChelan, who graciously allowed me to use his previous story as the complete reference material for this posting:
the court’s ruling became reason enough for Goodfellow Brothers of Wenatchee, owners of the other 3 fingers, to decide that it would be dangerous to build an expensive facility on their fingers because at any time, a similar court action could possibly force their remaining 3 fills to be removed too. – GoLakeChelan.com