Spokane Journal of Business

Environmental law pioneer moves toward sunset of career

Cd’A attorney Scott Reed ending 58-year practice

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-—Mike McLean
Scott Reed says McEuen Park and Tubbs Hill, which his office windows overlook, make up a combination of developed and natural public lands like nothing else in Idaho.

At the age of 86, longtime Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed finally decided earlier this year to retire, although he admits he’s not very good at it yet.

Though he’s not taking new cases, the sole practitioner known even by friends as an environmental gadfly, still goes to the office most days.

“There’s no official retirement. I regard it as a midlife crisis,” he quips. “There’s always stuff that has to be carried on.”

Reed and his wife, Mary Lou, came to Coeur d’Alene in 1955, leaving behind their native Klamath Falls, Ore., after Reed completed his undergraduate education at Princeton University and his law degree at Stanford University.

“There was 15 to 18 lawyers for a population of 15,000,” Reed says. Now, he says, 300 lawyers serve a population of 40,000.

The Reeds raised two children in Coeur d’Alene.

Their son, Bruce Reed, former chief of staff for vice president Joe Biden and a Clinton administration policy adviser, now is president of Los Angeles-based Broad Education Foundation.

Their daughter, Tara Reed Woolpy, who has a doctorate degree in biology, teaches online courses for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Reed was admitted to the Idaho State Bar in 1956 and shortly afterward began pioneering environmental law. Throughout his 58-year career, he has fought for environmental causes, often taking on land developers and government agencies.

“In the beginning, there was a lot of concepts, but not a lot of environmental law,” he says. “It wasn’t popular and not terribly successful.”

With a tone of irony, the lifelong Democrat gives a nod to former Republican president Richard Nixon for calling for or enacting federal legislation—the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act—from which much of the nation’s environmental laws have emerged.

In 1970, Reed was one of the first lawyers in the country to put the brand new National Environmental Policy Act to the test with a lawsuit filed against state and federal agencies that proposed to construct Interstate 90 through the middle of the North Idaho town of Wallace.

The suit, which Reed filed on behalf of the late Wallace mining magnate Harry Magnuson, claimed in part that the transportation agencies hadn’t conducted an environmental impact statement as required under NEPA. The legal action stalled the freeway construction for nearly 20 years, leaving the highway winding through city streets.

“For over 10 years, Wallace had the only stoplight on the interstate,” Reed says.

Eventually, the Idaho Transportation Department moved construction north of the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River, along the mountainside and above downtown Wallace. That section of the interstate opened in 1991.

The Wallace suit was one of few cases in which Reed’s client was such a prominent businessman.

“Harry Magnuson was a great client,” Reed says. “When they asked what gave him standing to bring the suit, he said, ‘I own half the town.’”

Today, Reed says the Wallace suit has probably had the biggest impact of any of his cases. “It kept the highway from running through the middle of town,” he says.

While that lawsuit was in play, Reed lost another I-90 related lawsuit, which he filed in opposition to constructing a portion of the freeway route that includes the Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge, which rises 300 feet above a valley near Bennett Bay.

Despite the legal loss, Reed credits the Idaho Transportation Department for “a tremendous engineering feat” in developing the bridge.

He adds, however, “Then they loused up Higgens Point.”

There, 600,000 square yards of improperly placed fill for a planned I-90 interchange sloughed into Wolf Lodge Bay in 1990, taking with it a bulldozer and a road grader which remain entombed in the lakebed.

Reed again brought suit against ITD, this time in the name of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and other plaintiffs.

In settling that suit, ITD abandoned the interchange project and agreed to construct the easternmost five-mile segment of the Centennial Trail bike and pedestrian path, which terminates at Higgens Point.

During his legal career, Reed has filed suit in state and federal courts against ITD over environmental damage claims along Sand Creek, in Sandpoint; at Mica Bay, on Lake Coeur d’Alene; and most recently, Paradise Ridge, south of Moscow.

Most of Reed’s clients are individual property owners, homeowners’ associations, and grass-roots environmental groups.

Although he considers it fun to represent the Davids against the Goliaths, it’s a greater challenge to make a living at it because clients aren’t always in a position to pay for complex legal work.

“With federal cases, you often get awarded attorney fees if you prevail, but at the state level, that’s not there,” Reed says. “You just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

More routine cases such as land-use disputes involving matters of zoning, right of way, and boundary locations, help keep the practice afloat, he says.

“It’s interesting, but not terribly exciting,” Reed says.

He says a colleague once told him he was listed as counsel in 63 cases that have gone before the Idaho Supreme Court.

“It’s probably over 70 by now,” Reed says. “Don’t ask me my win-loss record.”

One long-running case with many chapters that he considers a loss was over Sanders Beach, east of Tubbs Hill, where he represented clients who claimed a public easement had been established through generations of public use of Sanders Beach between the lake and the seawalls south of East Lakeshore Drive.

Private landowners, represented by Magnuson’s son John Magnuson, eventually prevailed, with the Idaho Supreme Court ruling that private property extends below the seawalls to the lake’s high-water mark.

Through a final settlement, though, the city of Coeur d’Alene and the public gained some concessions, with public areas established on the east and west ends of Sanders Beach and a ban on private docks on the beach, he says.

To those who think of Reed’s ilk as impeding economic progress and meddling with private property rights, he points to Tubbs Hill, a popular urban wildland near downtown Coeur d’Alene, as a natural attraction that appeals to nature enthusiasts ranging from local youth to international travelers at the nearby Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Prominently visible from his second-floor office in the Bank of America building there at 401 E. Front Ave., the 165-acre forested natural area, which juts into Lake Coeur d’Alene, is a 405-foot-tall monument to grassroots conservation efforts, he says.

Reed, his wife, and their conservation-minded Democratic mentor, the late Art Manley, were among the initial members of the Friends of Tubbs Hill, a persistent group that still champions the protection of Tubbs Hill for public use.

They also founded the Kootenai Environmental Alliance in 1972, which Reed boasts is the oldest active Idaho-born environmental organization.

Along the way, Manley and Mary Lou Reed both were subsequently elected to six terms as senators in the Idaho Legislature.

Through a series of complex transactions conducted over several decades at the prodding of Friends of Tubbs Hill and others, the city of Coeur d’Alene acquired most of Tubbs Hill and McEuen Field piecemeal from private owners for a mere $300,000 and some federal matching funds, Reed says.

“The federal grants come with enormous strings that are more like chains,” Reed says. “You can’t take public access to Tubbs Hill away without paying the federal government the current market price.”

Comparing Tubbs Hill to developable private waterfront and view property, Kootenai County Assessor Mike McDowell calculated the “hypothetical value” of Tubbs Hill at $177 million back in 2005.

One contentious development that Reed eventually came to support was the development of the recently opened McEuen Park below the beloved Tubbs Hill.

The $17 million-plus, multiuse McEuen Park replaces baseball fields, which had limited seasonal use.

Now that it’s mostly complete, the developed park complements the Tubbs Hill natural area, Reed says.

“It’s all public,” he says. “When you put the combination together, there’s nothing like it in Idaho.”

At the sunset of his law career, Reed says he sees a bright future for public use of McEuen Park and Tubbs Hill.

“It’s a very satisfying conclusion,” he says, again pointing to the public landmarks from his office window. “We didn’t get Sanders Beach, but we’ve got that.”

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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