MOSES LAKE - The Grand Columbia Council of Boy Scouts of America is selling property to pay off a $1.6 million debt.
The Grand Columbia Council, based in Yakima, serves Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, Okanogan and Yakima counties and serves portions of Adams, Benton, Ferry and Klickitat counties.
The council accrued about $1.6 million in debts after making improvements to Camp Fife, near Mt. Rainier, said Bruce Noonan, vice president of Venturing for the council.
Camp Fife's improvements started with construction of a new dining hall, he said. The old facility didn't accommodate all the campers and some had to sit under a covered outdoor area to eat their meals, he said.
After the new dining hall was built, state and county inspectors visited the camp for the first time.
"They came up and looked at the dining hall and they said, 'Where's your water system?'" said Noonan. "'The pressure isn't adequate for this dinning hall. And where's your filtration system?'"
The entire water system needed to be replaced, he said.
"This was extremely expensive and not something we had even remotely planned on," he said.
Inspectors said the World War II-era diesel generators used at the camp had to be replaced by two new propane generators and the entire camp had to be rewired to be brought up to code, Noonan added.
After all the improvements, the council was $1.5 million in debt, said Scout Executive Robert Fawcett.
The council borrowed approximately $600,000 from their endowment to apply to the debt, he said. The council is legally obligated to refund the endowment, he added.
The council began looking at selling property as a way to raise money.
Properties the council recently listed with NAI Black Commercial Real Estate Services include: 41.75 at North Creek across from Scout-A-Vista, listed for $227,000; 61.59 acres across from Scout-A-Vista for $335,000; 100 acres at Summit Lake camp near Wauconda for $252,000; 22 acres across from Camp Bonaparte for $105,000; the 11,000-square-feet council office building in Yakima for $1.2 million; and slightly less than an acre in Buena.
The camp at Summit Lake is not used for council camping programs, said Fawcett, and the other camp properties would not affect council camping programs.
The idea of selling Scout-A-Vista has met resistance from Boy Scout supporters in the Wenatchee area. The property at Scout-A-Vista, just under 200 acres, was appraised at about $1.7 million, according to Fawcett.
"If we would sell that - and there are a lot of developers looking for land around Wenatchee to put up houses, there's houses all around that area - that would be a prime spot," said Noonan. "We're running into big resistance from the people in Wenatchee. They say, 'This is a Boy Scout camp, my son went there, I went there. We can't let you sell this.' A group tried to sue the council to keep us from selling it. We said look, 'If we don't sell it, then we go bankrupt, the courts will sell it.'"
Another group is trying to raise $500,000 to save the part of the camp "that everybody knows and loves as Scout-A-Vista," said Fawcett.
Ownership of the camp property would transfer from the council to the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, he said. They would lease the property back to the council on a 99 year lease for $1 per year. That would ensure everyone knew that "Scout-A-Vista cannot, and will not, be sold," he said.
People are hesitant to donate money, fearing their donation will go toward repaying the debt, said Fawcett. The council is pursuing other funding sources to pay down the debt and still needs to raise money for operating expenses, he said, adding that the council's debt to the bank could be paid off by the end of the year.
The council has laid off district executives, senior executives and other staff, and minimized supply purchases, in an effort to curb expenses, said Noonan.
"We've gone through an austerity program that is unbelievable," he said. "Most people don't even know that the Boy Scouts are in trouble and that's the biggest concern. We would like people to support the Scouts. I think we contribute a lot to this area."
The Grant Columbia Council produces around 56 Eagle Scouts per year, he said, and each of them completes a project involving hundreds of hours of work benefitting the community.
"The whole council and Boy Scouts have contributed a lot to this community," he said.