Clallam hit by Rivers' End lawsuit threat

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

(This article contains many erroneous statements. See comment at the end of this article.)

February 4, 2003

SEQUIM, WA---A group of Dungeness River property owners is threatening legal action against Clallam County.

In a letter to county commissioners, the Rivers' End group accused the county of failing to comply with the commissioners’ year-old emergency proclamation to provide protection against future floods.

“No action has been taken as of this date to prevent future flooding,” the January 30 letter from North Olympic Peninsula Property Owners Association says.

“If the county and the city of Sequim take no action, after being made aware of the dangerous situation and the home-owners incur additional losses due to future flooding, the home-owners affected will file a lawsuit against the county and city of Sequim for gross negligence.”

The association’s letter listed businessman Bob Forde as organization chairman and River Road resident Diane Hood as its officer.

Last year’s flood

“What happened last year in January was a breach on city property, an opening, and 60 percent of river diverted through it and went around Kinkade Island,” Hood said Monday, referring to the Jan. 8, 2002, flood that swept a Kinkade Island home away.

The flood level was the highest in 70 years of river flows.

Hood said Monday she fears her neighborhood will become an island if the river spills over into Kinkade Creek again.

The association is a growing group of river area home owners who want to see the river flooding problem brought under control, she said.

Hood contends the county could work on the river to control its movements.

A River Road homeowners since 1991, she said the commissioners’ proclamation means the county should protect the health and safety of river area residents.

Kinkade Island residents have proposed armoring the island with concrete.

But county habitat officials fear the action could damage salmon habitat downstream and cause additional flooding.

Executive session called

Commissioners met Monday with Clallam County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly in a 10-minute executive session to discuss the legal ramifications of the group’s letter.

They reconvened in public session, with Melly saying the county would only be exposed to a lawsuit if it worked on the river.

“Governments have no responsibility for flooding unless they built the problem,” Melly citing privately owned dikes as an example of the problem.

Bob Martin, county Department of Community Development director, said the most feasible way to protect river residents from flooding is “to move people out of harm’s way.”

I read the letter to say that for any future floods, the county could be at fault,” Martin said. “I guess I disagree with that. I stopped doing my rain dance a long time ago.”

Martin suggested the county secure grants to buy out the residents.

The emergency declaration “was intended to address the immediate problem at hand,” he said.

“There were some immediate things going on and the (commissioners) wanted to respond to a life-threatening situation,” he said. “We are not to take responsibility for all things all times in the future. That would be ridiculous.”

Grant to buy property

The county last spring received a $1.5 million grant from the Salmon Funding Recovery Board to buy property at Rivers End.

Martin said he believes the county should acqure other grants to buy out river property owners near Kinkade Island and in the lower reaches of the river. He also said the county should continue to evaluate the river’s movements and condition.

Martin urged commissioners Monday to extend a federal Bureau of Reclamation analysis of the river’s side channels and the human effects on these channels.

Reclamation recently completed a geomorphology investigation of the lower 10.5 miles of the river. The study analyzes relationships between river flows and flood stages.

County officials with Martin’s department have been discussing river property buy-outs over the past year and river residents have been mixed in their responses.

Commissioner Chairman, Steve Tharinger D-Dungeness, on Monday agreed with Martin’s position on buying out property owners.

“The safest effort legally is to try to get people out of harm’s way,” Tharinger said.

(Editor's Note: This story contains many inaccuracies. Diane Hood does not reside at River's End, which is near the mouth of the Dungeness River, but at the opposite end of the privately-owned portion of the river, Kinkade Island. Property owners at both ends of the privately-owned portions of the Dungeness River have been fighting for their private property rights in the face of a growing bureaucratic move to "move them out of harm's way" by buying out their properties. The owners at Kinkade Island are discussing the possibility of a lawsuit, not the owners at River's End.)


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