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AGLO 1974 No. 80 - September 18, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- LANDS ‑- REVERSIONARY INTEREST OF STATE IN CERTAIN LANDS ACQUIRED FOR SCHOOL SITES

The provisions of RCW 79.01.780 require a reversion to the state of the interest conveyed under either RCW 79.01.096 or 79.01.770 in the event the land thus acquired has not been utilized for a school site for that seven-year period immediately preceding a given annual determination by the board of natural resources ‑ regardless of whether or not the land may have earlier been so utilized for seven previous years.

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                                                              September 18, 1974

Honorable Christopher T. Bayley
Prosecuting Attorney
King County Court House
Seattle, Washington 98104                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 80

Dear Sir:
 
            By letter previously acknowledged you have asked for our opinion on the following question:
 
            Where a school district has acquired land from the department of natural resources under RCW 79.01.096 or RCW 79.01.770, and thereafter has used it for a school site for at least seven years, does that land then cease to be subject to a reversionary interest on the part of the state so that after such period it may be freely used for other purposes either by the district or others?
 
            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons set forth below.
 
                                                                     ANALYSIS
 
            Chapter 200, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., revised the laws relating to the sale or lease to school districts and institutions of higher education of certain state lands managed by the department of natural resources; i.e., lands granted by the United States.  Section 1 of this act, by amending the prior provisions of RCW 79.01.096 which granted a preference right to school districts or institutions of higher education to purchase or lease such lands at fair market value whenever the department proposes to offer them for sale or lease at public auction, altered the sizes of the tracts which those districts or institutions can thus acquire.  Whereas the prior law had restricted such acquisitions to not less than three nor more than ten acres,1/ the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] amendment delegated that determination to the discretion of the department of natural resources ‑ with consideration being given to the school site criteria established by the state board of education.
 
            New § 2 of this 1971 act, now RCW 79.01.770, then afforded the opportunity to those school districts or institutions of higher education which were leasing any of the subject lands as of August 9, 1971, to purchase them if, by January 1, 1976, the district or institution in question has placed improvements thereon.
 
            However, new § 5 of the act, now RCW 79.01.780, provided for the reversion of the lands involved under certain conditions.  This section reads as follows:
 
            "Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, annually, the board of natural resources shall determine if lands purchased or leased by school districts or institutions of higher education under the provisions of RCW 79.01.096 and 79.01.770 are being used for school sites.  If such land has not been used for school sites for a period of seven years the title to such land shall revert to the original trust for which it was held."
 
            As originally introduced, this provision (in the form of House Bill No. 464) read slightly different, as follows:
 
            "Annually the board of natural resources shall determine if lands purchased by school districts or institutions of higher education under the provisions of sections 1 and 2 of this 1971 amendatory act are being used for school sites.  If such land has not been used for school sites for a period of seven years after the purchase thereof the title to such land shall revert to the original trust for which it was held."  (Emphasis supplied.)
 
            It appears to us that chapter 200, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., was enacted to bring the procedures for the sale or lease of lands granted to the state by the United States in line with the trust obligations imposed by both the Washington Enabling Act and the state constitution to obtain fair market value for the interests sold or leased.2/   Moreover, it also appears  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] to us, in direct answer to your question, that the provisions of RCW 79.01.780, supra, in its final form, were intended to apply to any seven-year period of time and not merely an initial seven-year period from the date of acquisition of such lands by a school district or higher educational institution.
 
            In addition to the above‑noted legislative history indicating a deletion of the phrase "after the purchase thereof," this conclusion is further borne out by the fact that the provisions of RCW 79.01.780 apply equally to lands acquired under RCW 79.01.096 (§ 1, chapter 200, supra) and RCW 79.01.770 (§ 2, chapter 200, supra).  Leases under RCW 79.01.096 may be for as long as seventy-five years.  In the case of purchases under RCW 79.01.770, the purchase presupposes a use of the land for schoolhouse purposes and/or related supporting facilities in the form of improvements at the time of purchase.  The board of natural resources is not limited to an initial seven-year period in determining that use but is directed to make such determinations annually.  Thus, the seven-year period referred to in RCW 79.01.780 must be construed to cover any period of time when the land is owned or leased by such district or institution, and not merely the seven-year period immediately following acquisition.

            There are no provisions in the law allowing for partial use.  On the contrary, the amendment in § 1 of the act (RCW 79.01.096, supra) illustrates a desire upon the part of the legislature to relate the amount of land purchased or leased to that which may be necessary for school sites and to eliminate the holding of surplus lands.
 
            Accordingly, in summary, it is our opinion that the provisions of RCW 79.01.780 require a reversion to the state of the interest conveyed under either RCW 79.01.096 or 79.01.770 in the event the land thus acquired has not been utilized for a school site for that seven-year period immediately preceding a given annual determination by the board of natural resources ‑ regardless of whether or not the land may have earlier been so utilized for seven previous years.  We thus answer your question, as paraphrased, in the negative.
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
            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

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***
 
1/Section 24, chapter 255, Laws of 1927, as last amended by § 1, chapter 46, Laws of 1970, Ex. Sess.
 
2/See, § 11 of the Washington Enabling Act and Article XVI of the Washington Constitution, together with U.S. v. 111.2 Acres of Land, 293 F.Supp. 1042 (1968), 435 F.2d 561 (1970); and Lassen v. Arizona, 385 U.S. 458, 17 L.Ed. 2d 515, 87 Sup.Ct. 584 (1967).

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