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AGLO 1977 No. 25 - June 22, 1977
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION ‑- COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC LANDS ‑- RESERVATION OF MINERAL RIGHTS IN FORMER STATE PARK LANDS

Where, in disposing of land no longer needed for park purposes under RCW 43.51.210, the state parks and recreation commission reserves mineral rights in that land, the mineral rights thus reserved become subject to administration by the state department of natural resources under the provisions of RCW 79.01.612 unless those mineral rights have themselves been reserved for some specific and legitimate park purpose.

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                                                                   June 22, 1977

Honorable William S. Day
State Senator, Fourth District
437 Public Lands
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1977 No. 25

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question pertaining to the administration of mineral rights reserved by the state parks and recreation commission when conveying land no longer needed for park purposes.  Specifically you have asked whether, under such circumstances, the mineral rights thus reserved become subject to administration by the state department of natural resources under the provisions of RCW 79.01.612.

            We answer the foregoing question in the qualified affirmative for the reasons stated in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As set forth in your letter, your question asks us to assume a situation in which the state parks and recreation commission, at some time in the past, lawfully acquired certain lands for recreational and park usage.  Thereafter, however, a determination was made by the parks commission  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] that the lands in question were no longer necessary for park use.  Accordingly, the commission disposed of those lands pursuant to the provisions of RCW 43.51.210.1/   In so disposing of the subject lands, however, the parks and recreation commission expressly reserved ". . . to the state of Washington . . ." ownership of the mineral rights in those lands.  What, you ask, are the legal consequences of that action in terms of future administration of the reserved mineral rights?

            The only statute granting any authority to the parks and recreation commission to administer mineral rights is RCW 43.51.060 which provides, in material part, that:

            "The commission may:

            ". . .

            "(7) Enter into agreements whereby individuals or companies may rent undeveloped parks or parkway land for grazing, agricultural, or mineral development purposes upon such terms and conditions as the commission shall deem proper, for a term not to exceed ten years;

            ". . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            That statute, however, clearly presupposes that the minerals involved are situated within undeveloped park or parkway lands ‑ and not, as here, in lands which have been disposed of as surplus.  On the other hand, when we turn to the public lands act, chapter 79.01 RCW, we find, in RCW 79.01.612, the following:

            "The commissioner of public lands shall have the power and it shall be his duty to manage and control all lands acquired by the state by escheat or operation of law and all lands acquired by the state by deed of sale or gift or by devise, except such lands as are conveyed or devised to the state to be used for a particular purpose . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In addition, in RCW 79.01.004, we find that the term "public lands" is expressly defined therein to mean:

            ". . . lands belonging to or held in trust by the state, which are not devoted to or reserved for a particular use by law, . . ."

            Although unlikely, it might be possible to conceive of a situation in which mineral rights would be reserved for some specific and legitimate park purpose ‑ for example, to protect a certain state park against interference by mining activities on immediately adjacent lands.  And if that were clearly the case, then RCW 79.01.612, supra, would be inapplicable and administrative responsibility would remain with the parks commission.  But in the absence of such a basis for the particular reservation involved it is our opinion that such mineral rights as are the subject of your inquiry, being no longer related to lands held for park purposes only, would be "public lands" for the purposes of the public lands act, and, accordingly, would be subject to administration by the commissioner of public lands (and the department of natural resources) under the above quoted provisions of the public lands act.2/

             We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


THEODORE O. TORVE
Assistant Attorney General


CAROL A. SMITH
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 43.51.210 reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "Whenever the state parks and recreation commission finds that any land under its control cannot advantageously be used for park purposes, it is authorized to dispose of such land. . . ."

2/Following our initial formulation of the above stated conclusions we asked you specifically to identify for us, if possible, the actual transaction which gave rise to your question.  By letter dated June 2, 1977, you responded by providing us with a legal description of the property; i.e., "Sec. 33, Twp. 28N, R. 45 EWM" in Spokane county.  A check with the parks and recreation commission reveals no park purpose as the basis for the reservation of mineral rights in that case.  Therefore, in accordance with the above, administrative responsibility for those mineral rights is now vested in the department of natural resources.

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