private ownership status of the Dungeness River channel
also makes it difficult to implement habitat improvement or
channel stabilization projects." - Dungeness/Quilcene Plan
Clallam County, WA -5/11/02- The Dungeness
River is unique in Washington State in that much of it is
privately owned. Located
on the North Olympic Peninsula near Sequim, ownership
runs to the middle of the river on each side.
Much of the upper river (a little over 21 miles) is
located within state or federal land ownership.
The lower 10.8 miles of the river, however, has
historically been held in private ownership.
The will of the environmental radicals combined with
federal and state agencies is to change that in any way they
In 1997, the “watershed council” (which
mantle the Dungeness
River Management Team [DRMT] has taken upon itself) set up a
work group to “recommend restoration projects for the
Dungeness River.” Some
of the statements made in their report reflect the underlying
theme and desire to rid the river of private owners. One of the
statements they make early on reads: ““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.”
(Read the plans for the Dungeness River here: BlueBk.pdf
downloadable .pdf file)
They go on to state that human activity is
mostly to blame for the demise of the fish (pink and Chinook
stocks of salmon are considered at “critical status” and
“at risk of extinction.”
This despite the fact that the highest number of returns
of these species were recorded this year than for many many
“Dungeness River floodplain has been altered by many human
activities including diking, bridge and road constrictions,
removal of log jams and large woody debris, forest and
agricultural land management, and water withdrawals,” says
the working group’s report.
In another report by county employee Joel
Freudenthal, humans were again placed second to fish, as a
discussion of the breaching of one of the dikes which protect
homeowners along the river was discussed. In his “Final
Report” regarding removal of the Kinkade Island dike, he
stated, “The obvious [protecting fish] benefits to increasing
the flows within the channel had to be weighed against an
increase in flood hazard or stability of inlet channel.”
The humans lost out in this one, as the dike was
partially breached, allowing water to rush toward the
shorelines, undercutting the owners’ properties.
During the recent flood in January, one home was lost
entirely to the river as a result of this and the refusal to
remove large woody debris along with the refusal to allow people
to protect their homes from flooding with either sandbags or
Rusty and Kimberly Culp stood helplessly by as the river took
Jim and Michele Connel can no longer live in their home; the
county will not allow them back into it because of the
“danger” of further flooding.
The first home in recent years to be taken by the river
belonged to Glen Conley. He
lost his home to the river when the Haller Dike was breached by
the county, and he was told by the county that he could not keep
the concrete blocks that had protected his property for years.
When he finally compromised with the county and removed the
blocks, placing in their stead “riprap”, the river undercut
his home, and he lost it.
Downriver, three landowners lost much of their property.
Two are thinking of selling now; the third stews over the
potential cost to comply with the state’s requirement for
“restoration” of his property, which involves planting
hundreds of trees.
Toward the bottom of the river, at River’s End, the county
applied for and received a grant to buy out the owners there,
with plans for removing the 3.4 mile Corps of Army Engineers’
dike, completed in 1964 for the purpose of protecting the
village of Dungeness. (Once
removed, that town will come under the flood waters again,
costing private owners there their property.)
One of the landowners at River’s End was cited in violation
of the county’s critical areas ordinance, despite the fact
that he proved that no harm was being done to the river, the
fish or to anyone or anything.
waters slam against the Kinkade Island bridge after
the dike was breached to 'protect the fish.'
He stands to lose his property by way of a county lien –
and subsequent foreclosure on the lien – if he doesn’t
“willing seller” in the making?
What has changed? Many
of the owners have lived on the river for years, and have been
able to protect it from the ravages of flooding.
Years ago, it was not unusual to see a bulldozer in the
river deepening the channel and keeping the river in its course.
Just over the past few years have peoples’ property
been placed in jeopardy of loss – and some, sadly, have
already lost their homes. Why?
What has changed?
In early 1981, the Dungeness/Quilcene Plan was brought about
as the result of the Chelan Agreement.
In it resides the foreshadowing of all that is currently
taking place. Although
supposedly sunsetted in 1995, the D/Q Plan is back and
referenced quite frequently by that same special interest group
– a group that has much power over the running of the county.
(Although the DRMT itself does not have enforcement powers, it
does state that it has “implementation” powers – and the
member agencies do have – and use – their enforcement powers
– ie. State Dept. of Ecology; county Department of Community
The government dictates “no removal
policies”, which causes woody debris buildup in the river.
This woody debris eventually breaks loose, causing
battering and destruction of dikes and property owners’ bank
protection efforts. These
current practices contrast markedly from previous policies of
removing all woody debris – in essence, government-implemented
destruction of the habitat.
(Common sense and good environmental stewardship lies
somewhere between these contrary practices.)
By removing or breaching dikes that
formerly protected the private owners’ land, by leaving large
woody debris in the river instead of removing it as had been
done in the past, and by not allowing owners to protect their
property with sandbags, riprap or any other method other than
“government approved, subject to permits” ways that end up
costing the property owner in both money and loss of part or all
of their property, the special interest group is achieving its
goal: to remove the ownership from private property owners.
A common theme is to purchase the property or easements
(conservation easements, usually) from “willing sellers.”
A potential seller can become very
“willing” when the county restricts them from the ability to
protect their home, and in fact, increases the potential of
danger to their home. This
we have seen happening, piece by piece, along the Dungeness
In 1997 after Glen Conley lost his home, a
group of approximately 70 river owners got together and formed
the Dungeness Valley Association.
It disintegrated as
a result of internal factions.
City of Sequim's owned property gets protection from a
fresh pouring of concrete.
In March of this year, 23 river owners and tenants signed on to
a petition to the City of Sequim demanding that the City cable
the woody debris across the channel to create a log jam (natural
dike of sorts) to help protect their property.
Meanwhile, the City of Sequim's property was fortified by
freshly poured concrete.
At present, the county’s resources far outweighs the resources
of working folk in a battle over private property ownership.
We’ll watch as this battle continues to unfold.
Click here for more photos of the flooding Dungeness River.