Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1949 No. 176 - Dec 9 1949
Attorney General Smith Troy


Pierce County may release land donated to the United States for military purposes from the possibility of reverter to the county in the event of a non-military user under the terms of the original grant by excepting certain areas from the reservation of the possibility of reverter.

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                                                                December 9, 1949

Honorable Patrick M. Steele
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County Court House
Tacoma, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 176

Attention:  Jennings Felix

Dear Sir:

            We are in receipt of your letter of November 28, 1949, in which you ask the following question:

            May Pierce County effectively release the tract of land now occupied by the Fort Lewis military establishment from the possibility of reverter to the county under the terms of an original deed of gift of land to the United States whereby title to the entire area is immediately and automatically reverted to Pierce County in the event of a non-military user of the tract, by excepting certain areas from the reservation of reverter?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            Pierce County may so release such land from the possibility of reverter.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            You have advised us that the federal government plans under authority of Public Law 211 to lease portions of Fort Lewis military area to private housing contractors.  Title to the proposed buildings will be retained as the personal property of the private contractors under the lease agreement.  To assure private capital an investor's return the lease provides that while rentals would be at the discretion of the commanding general, should he make no designation of military personnel or civilian personnel employed by the military on the base as preferred lessees of the housing units, within thirty days after notice that such units are ready for occupancy, these units may be rented to anyone the contractors desire.

            The land comprising the Fort Lewis military establishment was originally donated to the United States by Pierce County with the consent of the legislature of the State of Washington under section 20, chapter 3, Laws of 1917.  The deed provides that "If the United States should ever cease to maintain the tract above described for the uses above named * * * " (military purposes) title to the entire area shall immediately and automatically revert to Pierce County.  The property is thus subject to revert to the county if it should ever be used for non-military purposes and the military authorities are reluctant to engage in any project which at some future time might jeopardize their present interest in the Fort Lewis area.  In addition, this possibility of reverter is a sufficient cloud on the title to justify some concern on the part of the private investors involved.

            To relieve this apprehension the board of county commissioners is prepared to release to the United States that interest reserved under the original grant insofar as it is applicable to the areas to be used for the housing project hereinafter referred to as the "housing areas".  This is to be accomplished by means of a lease of such interest to run concurrently with the lease from the United States to the private investors, in consideration for which Pierce County shall have the right to levy and collect personal property taxes on these housing units when occupied by civilians, whether employed by the military or not.

            Section 1, chapter 227, Laws of 1941 (4026-1a Rem. Supp. 1941), provides in part as follows:

            "The Board of County Commissioners of any county by a majority vote are hereby authorized to directly lease, sell, or convey  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] by gift, all or any portion of real estate, or any interest therein owned by the county, however acquired, by tax foreclosure or in any other manner, to the United States for the use and benefit of any branch of the army, navy, marine corps or air forces of the United States, or for enlarging or improving any military base thereof, or for any governmental housing project * * * The property may be conveyed to the United States or to the State of Washington by deed or other instrument of conveyance and shall not require any consideration, if donated, other than the benefit which may be derived by the county on account of the use thereof and development of such property by the United States government or the state."

            The proposed construction is plainly within one or more of the purposes outlined in the statute.  If the county intends to lease its remaining interest in the housing area, a sufficient consideration will be found in the real and intangible benefits accruing to the county by virtue of such construction and improvement.  Moreover, the statute cited above authorizes the board of county commissioners to convey by gift any interest in real property for such purposes.  A conveyance by gift, of course, requires no consideration.

            It is, therefore, our opinion that Pierce County may legally except non-military use of certain areas of the Fort Lewis tract from the condition in the original grant subjecting the entire area to a possibility of reverter.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General