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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1950 No. 202 - Jan 23 1950
Attorney General Smith Troy


(1) A fire protection district may not legally annex areas which are located from one half to one and one quarter miles from the boundaries of the original district.

(2) Tracts of land which are some distance from the main area of a fire protection district remain a part of the original district.

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                                                                 January 23, 1950

Honorable Thurman E. Ward
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 202

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of January 6, 1950 in which you ask the following questions: (1) May a fire protection district legally annex areas which are located from one half to one and one quarter miles from the boundaries of the original district?  (2) What is the status of tracts of land which are some distance from the main area of a fire protection district where such tracts were organized as part of the original district?

            Our conclusions to these questions are summarized as follows:

            (1) Fire protection districts may not legally annex such areas.

            (2) Such tracts remain a part of the original district.


            Section 5654-116a Rem. Supp. 1947 (chapter 254, section 6, Laws of 1947), provides in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Any territory contiguous to a Fire Protection District and not within the boundaries of an incorporated city of the first, second or third class or other Fire Protection District may be annexed to such Fire Protection District, for the purpose of obtaining fire fighting protection or prevention facilities * * * "

            The answer to your first question must depend upon the meaning the legislature intended to give the word "contiguous".  We note that Webster's New International Dictionary, 2d Ed., defines "contiguous" as "in actual contact; touching; also, near, though not in contact; neighboring; adjoining; near in succession."

            A review of the legal definitions of the meaning of this word in annexation cases indicates the great weight of authority defines "contiguous" to mean "in actual contact, touching".  In reference to annexations of territory, McQuillan's Municipal Corporations, 3rd ed., Vol 2, p. 311, has the following authoritative definition:  "Contiguous lands are such as not separated from the corporations by outside land * * *"

            In an opinion of March 4, 1932, directed to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, this office held that for the purpose of consolidation of "adjoining" or "contiguous" school districts (R.C.S. sec. 4734, as amended by chapter 199, Laws of 1937; R.C.S. sec. 4742, chapter 77, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess.), lands touching only at a common corner were not contiguous.  InState ex rel. Grays Harbor Boom Co. v. Superior Court, 57 Wash. 71, 106 Pac. 481, the court held "neither is the use of the word 'contiguous,' as used in the statute, Rem. & Bal. Code, section 7121, to be given a restricted meaning of 'next to' or 'touching'."  The reasoning of the court in that case was based on the fact that the statute under consideration required a survey of lands contiguous to state waters for the protection of damage caused by overflow, and that land not actually bordering the rivers were as much entitled to protection as those next to or forming the banks of such waters.

            The intent of the legislature is, of course, the ultimate standard for statutory interpretation.  In this instance we feel the legislature intended to authorize territorial expansion without sacrificing the integration reasonably necessary to subserve the common purpose.  For that reason we hold that the areas in question may not be annexed by the fire protection district.

            Regarding your second inquiry, assuming that the original fire protection district was effectively organized, those areas which are separate from the main territorial unit would continue to be a part of the original district.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Although the statutes providing for organization of such districts probably contemplated a physical entity they do not specifically prohibit the formation of non-adjoining areas into a single district.  It has often been held that long acquiescence in the location of municipal boundaries by the local corporation and its inhabitants where municipal affairs have been carried on under an assumption that such boundaries are correct will support a conclusion that they are the true boundaries notwithstanding they were not so originally.  We think the same principle is applicable to the separate areas under consideration here.  If these isolated tracts have long been considered part of the original district, if they have contributed to municipal improvements and have been subject to municipal levies, they have the right to maintain their status as part of such district.

            In conclusion, may we suggest that if the common interests of the fire protection district justify the severance of these areas from the principal territorial unit, Rem. Rev. Stat. 8902, through 8905 (chapter 95, Laws of 1895), authorize and outlined the procedure for such detachment.  This would not leave such areas without recourse to fire protection facilities, since under section 5654-120 Rem. Supp. 1947 (chapter 254, section 6, Laws of 1947), any district has authority to contract with organizations or individuals for fire fighting protection and prevention purposes.

Yours very truly,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General