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AGO 1950 No. 309 - July 26, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

WATER FRONT PROPERTY.

(1) The words "water front" mean firm or uplands, improved or unimproved, fronting or abutting on any body of water, whether an arm of the ocean, a river, or a lake, and whether navigable or not.

(2) The words "water front" do embrace real property abutting on rivers and lakes, as well as real property abutting on salt water.

(3) Land does not have to abut on a body of water that is navigable to be included in the meaning of the words "water front."

(4) Fourth class municipalities may lease water front properties not required for municipal or other public use for reasonable periods not in excess of thirty years.

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                                                                    July 26, 1950

Honorable Donald H. Webster,Director
Bureau of Governmental Research & Services
University of Washington
Seattle 5, Washington                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 309

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of July 6, 1950, asking four questions relating to the construction of subsection 2 of section 1, chapter 151, Laws of 1949 (9175 Rem. Supp. 1949), which provides that fourth class cities or towns "* * * shall not have the power to sell or convey any portion of any water front."

            You are advised that with particular reference to subdivision 2 of section 9175 Rem. Supp. 1949:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (1) The words "water front" mean firm or uplands, improved or unimproved, fronting or abutting on any body of water, whether an arm of the ocean, a river, or a lake, and whether navigable or not.

            (2) The words "water front" do embrace real property abutting on rivers and lakes, as well as real property abutting on salt water.

            (3) Land does not have to abut on a body of water that is navigable to be included in the meaning of the words "water front."

            (4) Fourth class municipalities may lease water front properties not required for municipal or other public use for reasonable periods not in excess of thirty years.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The interest of the public in real property abutting on salt water is apparent.  The improvement of such property has been regulated by statutes which do not cover the improvement of land under water, and hence would not authorize construction of a bridge.  Newark v. Central R. R., 267 U.S. 377, 385.  City of Long Beach v. Lisenby, 175 Cal. 575, 166 Pac. 333, 335.

            The public is, however, also interested in property abutting upon rivers, streams, lakes and other bodies of water which are not navigable or suitable for general commerce.

            An excellent article on water boundaries of water front property by John Scott Obenour, Jr. will be found in Washington Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 3, at page 235 [[23 Wash. L. Rev. 235]].  It treats of the boundaries of water front property on both navigable and at page 235.  It treats of the boundaries of water front property on both non-navigable [[nonnavigable]]bodies of water and readily suggests one of the reasons why the legislature prohibited the sale of such property, the presumption being that where such property can be sold no riparian rights of any nature may be conveyed.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The Bureau of Governmental Research and Services of the University of Washington has issued an exceedingly helpful pamphlet designated as Report No. 96, covering Surveys, Sub‑division and Platting, and Boundaries.  At page 25 of this report, two examples of water front property are given; one, where property abuts on Puget Sound; another, where property abuts on a privately owned lake.  The use of the term "water front" is correct in both instances.

            A municipal corporation may ordinarily lease such property as is no longer required for municipal or other public use, and temporary leases are often upheld on this ground.

                        0 McQuillin on Municipal Corporations, 2d Ed., 96

                        8 Am.Jur. 169

            A lease of property (which a city was prohibited from selling) for a period of twenty-five years with privilege of renewal was held to be ultra vires inWeeks v. City of Galveston, 21 Tex. Civ. App. 102, 51 S.W. 544.

            We believe that the intent of the legislature may be gathered from section 9296 Rem. Rev. Stat. with reference to platted street ends upon the water front found to be unnecessary for the use of the public, inasmuch as the legislature validated leases of such street ends provided the term of such leases did not exceed thirty years.

            You are, therefore, advised that the town of Riverside may not sell real property fronting on the Okanogan River, but may, if it finds such property not necessary for a public use, and that the leasing of the same will be in the public interest, lease said property for a term not longer than thirty years.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

E. P. DONNELLY
Assistant Attorney General

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