County takes next step to buy out River's End property owners, despite protests

Citizen Review Online staff

Port Angeles, WA - 3/11/03 - Clallam County Commissioners met in work session with DCD [Department of Community Development] Director Bob Martin Monday, March 10, 2003, to discuss the hiring of consultant Ken Morgan to conduct an environmental assessment study of River's End property, located near the mouth of the Dungeness River near Sequim, WA.

Eighteen parcels - some with homes - have been targeted by the county for purchase to create an estuary. Funding of $1.5 million was obtained from Washington State's Salmon Recovery Funding Board, to purchase property from 'willing' sellers.

The consultant's work would involve a property assessment that includes file reviews, on-site inspection and interview with property owners. The county has already arranged for appraisals of the properties.

Many of the people at River's End do not want to move out. At meetings held by the county, several of the property owners expressed frustration and anger over the attempt to move them out. Owners have commented that they could be forced into becoming “willing” sellers when the county refuses to protect them and their homes, and will not allow them to protect themselves. Regulations - county, state and federal - preclude them from taking measures to defend themselves against the raging river during flood season.

Each property includes an interest in hundreds of acres of tidelands, which may create a problem with the appraisals, since it represents an unknown value.

The property is protected by a berm, which would be removed according to plans in "Recommended Restoration Projects for the Dungeness River, produced by the Dungeness River Restoration Work Group, a committee of the Dungeness River Management Team, 7/1/02".

According to the work group's report, the county is to return the river to its “natural” state by “restoration” projects. “Important river processes are altered when a dike is built that doesn’t allow flood waters to dissipate energy by spreading out across the floodplain, or that inhibits the river’s natural ability to store excessive sediment outside the channel”, the restoration report says.“These problems are the primary causes for increased flooding risks and declining fish populations in the Dungeness.” However, “restoring” the river by removing structures like the many dikes that protect would cause flooding across the valley, endangering homes and possibly lives.

“Restoration activities are challenged by the fact that most of the property surrounding the lower Dungeness River is privately owned,” the report continues. “Some work will require substantial funding, permits, property acquisition, easements or other types of agreements with willing landowners, some of which could be considered contentious,” it states.

The grant application repeats these words: “The lower river and estuary have been altered by diking, roadbuilding, and development causing degraded estuarine/riparian habitat, channel confinement, aggradation and related bedload instability…. The project will primarily benefit spawning and rearing of summer chum, lower river pink salmon and Chinook…Match is available from landowners, WDFW [Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife], USFS [U.S. Forest Service] and NOLT [North Olympic Land Trust].” (Short Description of Project, SRFB Manual 18i: Estuarine/Nearshore Marine Application Forms, June 22, 2001)

In other words, the buyout really has nothing to do with protecting landowners, and everything to do with “restoring the ecological processes of the estuary and lower Dungeness River.”

Property owners are continuing to oppose the buying out of their property.


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