Felled trees frustrated Dennis and Kimberly Beard’s plans for the Dinkey Creek Inn in the Sierra National Forest.
Now, from a federal court close to the White House, the Beards face another frustration. In a new ruling, a judge has dismissed the couple’s complaint that Forest Service missteps hindered their plans for developing the modest mountain resort.
Capping a dispute that dates to 2011, a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge has rejected what she termed a “scattershot” of complaints involving the removal of trees near the Dinkey Creek Inn. In part, the judge stressed the Forest Service’s broad responsibilities.
“The Forest Service has a statutory mission to protect and steward the national forests, which includes cutting down trees to reduce the risk of wildfire,” Chief Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith noted in an opinion filed Friday.
Attorney David D.L. Horton, who filed the Beards’ lawsuit, said in an interview Monday that “for the sake of the Beards, I’m disappointed” in the outcome. He stressed, as well, that the Beards “loved this place,” which they say logging radically transformed, cutting its market value.
“It was beautiful then,” Horton said, “and now it’s not.”
For the most part, the Forest Service does a very good job. But here, they made a mistake.
Attorney David D.L. Horton
The lawsuit, filed last year, centered on what happened to the Beards’ plans to build visitor cabins on a 3.68-acre site near Shaver Lake. The Beards first obtained a Forest Service use permit for the Dinkey Creek Inn site in 1981.
In 1993, the Forest Service approved a site development plan, which permitted the Beards to construct and operate a restaurant and up to 10 chalet cabins.
The Beards subsequently constructed four cabins. Then in October 2011, as part of a forest-thinning project, a Forest Service contractor cut down about 120 trees from a half-acre spot where the Beards planned to build three more cabins.
“Almost 16 percent of the Beards’ permitted (area) was clear-cut, leaving a large portion of the resort looking much more like a construction site than a get-away resort in a national forest,” Horton wrote in the couple’s original complaint.
A Forest Service official told the Beards that he did not know that the cleared area, intended as a landing spot for logged timber, was slated for cabin construction. Another Forest Service officer “appeared to be visibly very upset” at learning of what happened, Dennis Beard subsequently recounted.
Then, a logging company front-end loader fell into a septic tank.
The Forest Service agreed to replant trees but only one survived, and the Beards argued in claims court that the federal government had breached several duties.
Campbell-Smith concluded that while a “genuine dispute” existed over whether the Forest Service’s actions had interfered with the Beards’ rights, she could not identify any certain damages that resulted.
In a 22-page opinion, Campbell-Smith called the Beards’ “general claim of aesthetic harm speculative and not amenable to calculation,” while adding that she “cannot award damages on the mere possibility that (the Beards) might have built the additional cabins some time in the future, but for the breach.”
The Beards still have the use permit, but they have sublet the Dinkey Creek Inn to another operator.
Appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2013, Campbell-Smith is also presiding over a higher-profile California public lands lawsuit, involving a concession company’s trademarking of names at Yosemite National Park.