By SVERRE BAKKE
Voters in Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 will decide if territory will be withdrawn from the district to form a new fire district in an unincorporated area surrounding White Salmon.
Klickitat County commissioners made it so on June 21 with the adoption of a resolution that denied a revised petition to withdraw submitted by Fire District No. 3 commissioners (the Committee to Withdraw and Form a New Fire District tendered the original petition), and directed the County Auditor to "cause a special election to be held not less than  days or more than  days from the date of this resolution" on the petition to withdraw.
The special election will be held on Aug. 16, the date of this year's statewide primary election.
As part of the resolution, Commissioners Rex Johnston, David Sauter and Ray Thayer included a legal description of the territory originally proposed for withdrawal.
"In one sense, this is the result we were hoping for," said Nancy Sliwa, chairman of the Committee to Withdraw. "We feel it's something that should appeal to most everybody, so we're very happy to see it go to a vote of the people, especially now that it includes almost everybody who signed the original petition to withdraw."
In making its decision on the revised petition, Johnston said the board of commissioners had to answer two legal questions in the affirmative: 1) Would the withdrawal of territory from Fire District No. 3 be a benefit to the proposed area to be withdrawn?, and 2) would the withdrawal be conducive to the general welfare of the other district?
"It ended up being a decision that, maybe there's a benefit for the part being split out, but it wouldn't be of benefit to the part left over," Johnston said. "The other commissioners found there would be a benefit for the new district, but I felt there was no benefit because, at this time, we have three fire departments responding when one is called out. The other thing was, the fire departments in the area are working well together, so what's the point now?"
Johnston noted that the commissioners weren't going to hold a hearing on the fire district's resolution, which modified the boundaries of the area proposed for withdrawal from Fire District No. 3.
But the Committee to Withdraw filed a lawsuit in Klickitat County Superior Court to compel the county to act, and won. In April, visiting Judge Blaine Gibson ordered the county commissioners to hold a public hearing on the fire district's resolution. By law, the commissioners had two options: approve or deny the resolution, or call for a special election.
"The election was the only other choice left us by the judge," Johnston said, and added, "All voters in Fire District 3 will be affected if there's a withdrawal, so all will have a say in it."
Sliwa said her committee welcomed the opportunity to continue its efforts to educate the public on issues related to how fire districts operate, and how forming a new district could lead to future consolidation of local firefighting entities.
"Because of our withdrawal effort, we're seeing greater cooperation among fire departments," she noted. "But there are still good reasons to consider the formation of a new fire district. The feeling among our members now is that the committee needs to get the word out about the upcoming election and provide information people can make a decision about."