State Board on Geographic Names denies 'Riley Cove' proposal

The Washington State Board on Geographic Names vetoed "Riley Cove" as a proposed official name for the body of water located between Luther Burbank Park and the Roanoke Inn on May 15. A group of residents living on the cove proposed the idea, which was endorsed by the City Council on May 8.

According to Washington State Board on Geographic Names Executive Secretary Caleb Maki, the seven-member board voted unanimously against the proposal of Riley Cove, named after Island resident and WWII veteran Hu Riley and his pioneering family, because it breached a rule that an honoree must be deceased for at least five years before a site is named after him. Because Riley is still alive, the board could not legitimately approve the Island citizens' application.

When submitting the proposal, Islander Rob MacAulay said that he was aware of the rule on commemorative names. However, MacAulay went forward with the name Riley Cove because it honored the Riley family, early pioneers on Mercer Island, as well as Hu Riley himself. Apparently, the seven-member board did not view the application in this same light.

"It seemed from the City Council transcript [endorsement] and the application written that the name was honoring someone who is living," said Islander Margaret Philbrick, who received a personal e-mail from Maki regarding the board's May 15 decision. "Though well deserved, it's against the board's policies."

Because the application was turned down, there will be no public vetting process on the proposal. The State Board on Geographic Names invites residents with questions or concerns regarding the matter to contact them.

On May 4, more than a dozen North Mercer neighbors gathered at a City Council meeting to support MacAulay's proposal to name the north Mercer cove after Riley. Those who spoke called Riley one of “Mercer Island’s finest citizens” and “a true American hero,” since he fought on the beaches of Normandy, North Africa and Sicily during WWII, earned three Purple Hearts and returned to Mercer Island to raise a family. Riley was also present at the meeting with his wife, Charlotte.

After listening to citizens' words of admiration for Riley, the City Council agreed to support the Riley Cove proposal by endorsing the application. The application was then submitted to the State Board on Geographic Names for review. The board is the only power authorized by state law that can establish official names of geographic features — such as lakes, mountains, streams and towns — in the state of Washington.

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