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AGO 1964 No. 82 - January 30, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- AUDITOR ‑- DUTY TO ACCEPT FOR FILING PLATS SHOWING ESTABLISHED FARM UNITS UNDER RCW 89.12.040.

Under RCW 89.12.040, as amended by chapter 3, Laws of 1963, the county auditor is not required to accept for filing any plats submitted by the Secretary of the Interior, other than those plats showing farm units established by the secretary.

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                                                                 January 30, 1964

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 82

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we have paraphrased as follows:

            Does RCW 89.12.040, as amended by chapter 3, Laws of 1963, require the county auditor to accept for filing any plats submitted by the Secretary of Interior, other than those plats showing farm units established by the secretary?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            All who are acquainted with the state of Washington know of Grand Coulee Dam.  In 1943, the Congress of the United States passed the Columbia Basin Project Act, 57 Stat. 14 (1943), 16 U.S.C. § 835 (1958), so that the waters made available by the dam for irrigation purposes could be beneficially utilized.  This act provided for a program of administration through settlement and agricultural development of the lands within the boundaries of the project.

            Although your request deals directly with only a very small phase of the project's administration, considerable background must be set forth so that the problem presented can be understood.

            A distinguishing feature of the original project act related to the restrictions placed on ownership of lands within the project.  The Secretary of the Interior was first directed to divide all lands within the project, both public and private, into irrigation blocks.  These blocks were then to be subdivided into farm units.  A "farm unit" was defined in 16 U.S.C. § 835a (b) (i) as an area

            ". . . of sufficient acreage for the support  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of an average‑sized family at a suitable living level, having in mind the character of soil, topography, location with respect to the irrigation system, and such other relevant factors as, in his judgment, enter into the determination of the area and boundaries thereof; . . ."

            The only definite limitation on the size of a farm unit was that it was to contain not less than ten nor more than one hundred sixty acres of irrigable land.

            The original significance of a farm unit is realized when the following portions of the act are noted.

            16 U.S.C. 835a (b) (iii) stated:

            "Water shall not be delivered from, through, or by means of the project works to or for lands not conforming in area and boundaries to the farm units covering the lands involved. . . ."

            16 U.S.C. 835a (b) (iv) stated:

            "Lands within the project held by any landowner in excess of the farm unit or units to which water may lawfully be delivered as provided in subdivision (iii) of this subsection shall be deemed excess land: . . ."

            Further, each landowner was required, before receiving water from the project, to execute a "recordable contract" covering all lands in the district.  This contract was required by 16 U.S.C. 835a (c) (i) to contain the following provision:

            "That the landowner will conform his lands by purchase, sale, or exchange at the appraisal values to the area and boundaries of the pertinent farm unit or units shown on the plats filed under subsection (b) of this section and will dispose of excess land then or thereafter owned by him at its appraised value; . . ."

            The procedures for establishing farm units were found in 16 U.S.C. 835a (b) (ii), which read in part:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "Prior to the initial delivery of water to an irrigation block, the Secretary shall prepare a plat of all the farm units in the irrigation block and shall publish a notice of the intention to establish such farm unit plat in six weekly issues of a newspaper of general circulation in the county or counties in which any part of the irrigation block is located.  From the date of first publication, a copy of the plat shall be available in the county auditor's office of each of said counties for public inspection during the business hours of the office.  Any interested landowner shall have the right to file written objections to the plat with the county auditor of the county in which his lands are situated before the close of the period of publication.  After expiration of the period of publication the Secretary shall consider and determine all such objections, draw the plat in final form and file it for record in said county auditors' offices. . . ."

            In the same year, 1943, the legislature of this state adopted a policy of cooperation with the federal government in development of the project when it enacted chapter 275, Laws of 1943 (now codified as chapter 89.12 RCW).  By § 4 of the state act (RCW 89.12.040), the legislature directed the various county auditors to accept plats showing established farm units submitted to their offices by the Secretary of the Interior.1/   (See, also, RCW 89.12.080.)

            The question you raise, concerning the duty of a county auditor, arises from recent changes in both the federal and state legislation.  In 1962, the federal congress, primarily at the request of the United States Department of the Interior eliminated the above noted ownership restrictions by repealing § 2 of the project act (16 U.S.C. 835a, supra) which related to establishment of farm units and conformance of ownership therewith.  See, 76 Stat. 678 (1962), U.S.C. Supp. IV 669 (1963).  Because of this repeal, no longer is there any requirement  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] that ownerships in the project be conformed to farm units.

            Following the lead of the federal government and for the apparent purpose of bringing chapter 89.12 RCW into harmony with the change in federal legislation, the state legislature altered existing state law by enacting chapter 3, Laws of 1963.  The question you ask relates to what types of "plats" submitted by the Secretary of the Interior a county auditor must accept in light of these changes in federal and state statutes.

            You have informed us that you have not been advised by the federal authorities as to their intentions so far as the filing of any particular type of plat is concerned.  You suggest, however, that the secretary may continue to file plats containing the same information that was found on plats filed prior to the federal amendments of 1962.  See, U.S.C. 835a (b) (i) and (ii), supra.  This was apparently the position of the Secretary of the Interior at congressional hearings prior to enactment of the amendments.  See letter from Secretary Stewart L. Udall to George R. Locke, reprinted in Report of Hearings before the Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation, United States Senate on S. 3162, dated June 20, July 18, 1962, p. 14.

            On the other hand, you have indicated that the secretary may instead file plats which would set forth the boundaries of each irrigation block, the location of canals, drains, and other federally owned project rights of way, units of farm lands to be serviced by project waters from the several turnouts, and other minor details.

            Your question, then, is this: Must the auditor accept either of the above described plats, if they should be offered for filing by the Secretary of the Interior?  An answer to this question requires an interpretation of RCW 89.12.040 as amended by § 1, chapter 3, Laws of 1963.

            The complete text of RCW 89.12.040, showing both the deletions from the original language (in parentheses) and the additions thereto (by underlining) is as follows:

            "In connection with a district contracting or intending to contract with the United States under this chapter, the secretary for the purpose of administering the federal reclamation laws and ((in carrying out the policy of this chapter))of providing for the delivery of water thereto and the turnout therefor may segregate such lands, or any part thereof, into  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] farm units ((of sufficient acreage for the support of an average sized family at a suitable living level)), having in mind the character of soil, topography, location with respect to the irrigation system, and such other relevant factors as enter into the determination of the area and boundaries thereof.  Plats showing the established farm units or revisions thereof when approved, may be filed by the United States for record with the auditor of the county in which the land is located. Lands in excess of the ((farm unit or units or)) acreage in the amount specified by applicable federal law as not being excess lands held by any one landowner ((or family)) shall ((, except as otherwise provided in this chapter,)) be deemed excess land."

            When the meaning of a portion of a statute is in doubt, as is that portion of RCW 89.12.040 relating to plats which may now be filed by the Secretary of the Interior, resort must be made to the rules of statutory construction.  50 Am.Jur. Statutes, § 223 (1944).  The all important or controlling factor in the interpretation of statutes is to determine the legislative intent.  Public Hospital District No. 2 v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn.2d 623, 269 P.2d 594 (1954);Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn.2d 390, 399, 191 P.2d 858 (1948); 50 Am.Jur. Statutes, § 223 (1944).  Further, in situations such as are presented here, the language of a specific statutory provision must be considered in relation to the entire enactment, and in light of the purpose and objective of the enactment of which it is a part.  Crippen v. Pulliam, 61 Wn.2d 725, 380 P.2d 475 (1963).  Perhaps the clearest statement of the rule is found in 50 Am.Jur. Statutes, §§ 223, 224:

            "In the interpretation of statutes, the legislative will is the all important or controlling factor.  Indeed, it is frequently stated in effect that the intention of the legislature constitutes the law.  The legislative intent has been designated the vital part, heart, soul, and essence of the law, and the guiding star in the interpretation thereof.  Accordingly, the primary rule of construction of statutes is to ascertain and declare the intention of the legislature, and carry such intention into effect to the fullest degree.  A construction adopted should not be such as to nullify, destroy, or defeat the intention of the legislature.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "In the interpretation of a statute, the intention of the legislature is gathered from the provisions enacted by the application of sound and well settled canons of construction.  However,every technical rule as to the construction of a statute is subservient and must yield to the expression of the paramount will of the legislature, since all rules for the interpretation of statutes of doubtful meaning have for their sole object the discovery of the legislative intent, and are valuable only in so far as, in their application, they enable the courts the better to ascertain that intent.  It has even been declared that the intention of the legislature, when discovered, must prevail, any rule of construction declared by previous acts to the contrary notwithstanding."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            We have previously set forth in this opinion a brief chronological history of the Columbia Basin Project Act, and its state counterpart, chapter 89.12 RCW.

            The following rule, found in the case of Lynch v. Department of Labor and Industries, 19 Wn.2d 802, 809, 145 P.2d 265 (1944), is pertinent with regard to this historical background:

            "It is a rule of statutory construction that resort may be had to the history of the passage of a law under consideration.  State ex rel. Griffin v. Superior Court, 70 Wash. 545, 127 Pac. 120; State ex rel. Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Hoover, 200 Wash. 277, 93 P.2d 346;Shelton Hotel Co. v. Bates, 4 Wn.2d 498, 104 P.2d 478;Ayers v. Tacoma, 6 Wn.2d 545, 108 P.2d 348; Crawford, Statutory Construction 383, § 216; 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction (3d ed.) chapter 50, p. 481.

            "In fact, from the record before this court, the 'legislative intent' becomes clearly evident from the history of the passage of the law under consideration, andto disregard that history would be to ignore the above  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]expressed principle that legislative intent is the paramount factor in construing a law."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            See, also,Procter & Gamble Co. v. King County, 9 Wn.2d 655, 115 P.2d 692 (1941); and, for two of the more recent cases wherein the court examined the legislative history of an act in order to ascertain and thereby give effect to legislative intent, see, Norstrand v. Balmer, 53 Wn.2d 460, 335 P.2d 10 (1959); State ex rel. Blume v. Yelle, 52 Wn.2d 158, 324 P.2d 247 (1958).

            In examining the history of the legislation in question, it is important therefore to note whether the legislation and amendments thereto were enacted as a consequence of and in a desire to conform with a federal act.  Equitable Life Insurance Co. v. Iowa Employment Security Commission, 231 Iowa 889, 2 N.W.2d 262, 264 (1942).  This is in harmony with the general rule that state statutes should be so construed as to harmonize with federal legislation on the same subject.  Sorlien v. North Dakota Workmen's Compensation Bureau, 84 N.W.2d 575 (1957);State ex rel. State Public Welfare Commission v. Malheur County Court, 185 Ore. 392, 203 P.2d 307 (1949).

            One point stands out to anyone who reviews chapter 89.12 RCW in light of legislative history.  That is, since the original enactment of the Columbia Basin Project Act in 1943, it has been and still is the intention of the state legislature to cooperate fully with the program of the federal government.  This is clear from the language used in § 1, chapter 275, Laws of 1943 (now codified as RCW 89.12.010), which reads in part:

            "It is the policy of the state of Washington in connection with lands within the scope of this chapter which may be irrigated through works of federal reclamation projects . . . to cooperate with the United States with respect thereto."

            and the language of § 3, chapter 275, Laws of 1943 (now codified as RCW 89.12.030), portions of which read:

            ". . . The prospect of the construction of the irrigation features of the Columbia Basin project . . . under the federal reclamation laws . . . requires the granting of authority to . . . state . . . officers . . . to cooperate with the United States in connection with the irrigation of lands in this state. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            These two sections remain as originally written even though much of the remainder of the original enactment was drastically altered or repealed entirely by the 1963 amendment.

            Further, there can be no doubt of the legislature's awareness of the change in federal policy accomplished by Congress in 1962.  We refer to the statement of Representative Roy Mundy, a co-sponsor of chapter 3, Laws of 1963, made prior to its passage by the state legislature.  On January 28, 1963, immediately preceding the final passage of the bill, he explained on the floor of the house of representatives to his fellow legislators the proposed amendments as follows: "Here, today, what we are asking is asking the State of Washington pass this act to comply with the federal law which passed last October 1."  House Journal, 1963, p. 132.

            Thus there can be no doubt, from Representative Mundy's remarks, that chapter 3, Laws of 1963, was intended to continue a policy of full cooperation by implementing through amendment to state statutes the new federal policy.  See, also, House Journal, 1963, pp. 120, 136.

            When read with this background of statutory policy and legislative history in mind, the 1963 amendments to RCW 89.12.040 (§ 1, chapter 3) clearly indicate that the plats the Secretary of the Interior is now entitled to file are not limited to plats showing established farm units as they were understood prior to the federal and state amendments of 1962 and 1963.

            Rather, it is our opinion that if, in the administration of the federal reclamation laws as they apply to the area included in the Columbia Basin Project, the Secretary of the Interior determines that it is necessary for him to segregate this area into irrigation blocks, and establish farm units therein for the purpose of delineating lands to receive water from a common delivery point, without regard to the limitations as to acreage previously imposed, and the secretary further determines that such farm units be set forth on plats filed with a county auditor of this state, a county auditor must accept such plats by virtue of RCW 89.12.040.

            You are therefore advised that the type of plat a county auditor is required by RCW 89.12.040 to accept for filing is a plat showing established units of farm lands submitted to his office by the Secretary of the Interior.  However, the county auditor, under said section is not required to accept any other type of plat.

            No attempt has been made in this opinion to analyze the powers of the  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] Secretary of the Interior.  Such is not a function of this office.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

CHARLES B. ROE, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/This section provided, in pertinent part, that "Plats showing the established farm units or revisions thereof when approved, may filed by the United States for record with the auditor of the county in which the land is located."

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