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WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) Story
On Thursday, August 3, 2006, a gentleman from the WSDOT came and told us that the state wanted to buy our property, demolish all the buildings, and put in a stormwater retention pond, for the I-405 Widening Project. This was the first inkling that we had of this, and needless to say, we were shocked. He said that the plan was to run a large pipeline under NE 132nd St from the freeway (which is about a quarter of a mile away - see picture below), and dump the water into a ten foot deep pond that they would construct on our property. After being treated, the water would exit through an underground pipe to the tributary of Juanita Creek that lies to the north of our property. Here is an aerial view of Bedside Manor, showing the distance to the freeway and the other properties between us and the freeway.
Of course, we told him that we werenít the slightest bit interested in selling out, and he informed us that the state would use the powers of Eminent Domain to condemn our property if necessary, and he more or less told us that there wasnít anything we could do about it. He was very professional and expressed compassion for our circumstances, but he was also very clear that this was what was going to happen. We got the impression that it was all going to happen very quickly, as well, although looking back on it, he never said that directly. He described the process to us - basically, they do an appraisal, then they make us an offer based on the Fair Market Value of our property. If we refuse the offer and negotiations fail, then they initiate condemnation proceedings and eventually evict us, if we donít cooperate.
During that initial conversation, it became clear that they were interested in our property mainly because it is 1.6 acres with only one old house on it. They figure it would be less expensive to condemn our property than to go after an apartment building, a number of condos, the fire station, a group of houses on smaller lots, or the church across the street. I think it is pretty ironic that they are going after us because we havenít developed our land. Instead of rewarding us for keeping the historic buildings and old landscaping intact, we are being punished. It doesnít seem right to me.
On Monday the 7th, we consulted a lawyer who specializes in condemnation proceedings, and he confirmed for us what I had already found out on the web, that there isnít any way to stop a condemnation in the courts unless there is fraud or some gross malfeasance by the condemning agency. The lawyer would have been glad to represent us in negotiating the best possible price for our property, but he wasnít interested in trying to stop the condemnation, because it is virtually impossible to do so. I continued to research the subject on the web, but it wasnít a happy weekend around old Bedside Manor, and Monday night marked a low point, emotionally. It appeared that our only hope would be to convince the WSDOT that they didnít really want our property, and it was hard to see where to even get started on doing that.
The next day we talked to another law firm and got more good information on the whole process. I thought these people were more sympathetic and willing to help us out in resisting the state, and I expect we will retain them soon, to represent us in the whole process. At their suggestion, I found the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. It is online and makes for very interesting reading. I was surprised at how much detail it has in it. You can read it here: Environmental Assessment
In Chapter 4, there is an 11 page map (Exhibit 4-2) that shows all the various aspects of the project, and on sheet 8 of 11, you can see the part of the project that includes Bedside Manor. No sign of any retention pond on our property, though! Instead, there is a large retention pond shown along the freeway, adjacent to the Woodlake Apartments, north of NE 132nd St.
In Chapter 5 on pages 5.4 -10 and 5.4 -11, there is a table of all properties that need to be acquired by the state for the project and a map of their locations. Again, no mention of our property. I was also very interested to see that there is no other case where they are planning to build a pipeline to a retention pond. All the other retention ponds and vaults (concrete structures intended to contain the water until it can be treated) are adjacent to the freeway - not a quarter of a mile away. I donít know yet just what this means, but it is very interesting to me. One possible explanation is that something caused them to change their minds about their plans, and our property has only come under their scrutiny recently. I am exploring the legal ramifications of the fact that our property was not included in the original Environmental Assessment, and Iím trying to find out if an amendment to the Assessment would have to be done, to include it. If so, then that is presumably a public process, with public meetings and an opportunity for public comment. One possibility seems to be that they would cover the environmental impact aspects of the proposed retention pond at Bedside Manor in the Assessment done for a later stage of the overall Widening Project. If so, then that too is a public process, and we would have a chance to present our case. The Assessment for that next phase of the overall project just got started and it is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007. So far, these are all just possibilities, and I am trying to find out the realities. Washington has a strong Public Records law (Freedom of Information), and any of the records of any public agency can be requested by any citizen, so eventually I will understand just how this has all developed.
The other very interesting thing that came out of my research on the WSDOT website is that the part of the project that would affect us is not due to start construction until 2009! Suddenly the urgency and panic we were feeling was lessened considerably. I later confirmed that time frame in several ways. The acquisition of property for that part of the project isnít even scheduled to start until July 2007. It appears they have approached us very early on, which might be because of their concern for impacting a family by taking away their home, or it might be because they had an idea we might prove recalcitrant and they wanted plenty of time to deal with us. Whatever the reason, there is more time than we originally thought, which is a huge relief. I had been thinking I would have to cancel my long-planned Australia trip in October/November, but now it appears I can go.
One other development is that I have found out that the WSDOT engineers are looking at some other options. One of those would use only the northern portion of our property. If they could take the northern part, leaving the garage, the milkhouse, and the house, along with the rest of the yard out to the street, that would leave us with maybe an acre of land, and we could probably live with that. I am hoping that some of the alternatives they are looking at would leave our land untouched, but I havenít been able to confirm that hope. Based on the limited information that we have been given so far, it is hard to understand just what is going on, except that they seem to be progressing along the path of trying to buy our property.
One of the interesting aspects of this is that our neighbors donít yet know anything about this. I wonder how they would like to have a retention pond next to their houses, instead of the Farm. It is early days yet, and we have not given up by any means. It is quite reassuring that they donít really need our land until 2009 - perhaps there is time for public opinion to have an effect here. I think our story is a compelling one, and I hope to get a chance to tell it. To us, the idea of taking the Farm for a retention pond is completely absurd, but strange things do happen in this world.
So, that is how it stands at this point. We have been told to expect an appraiser to show up here in a week or two, and to expect an offer for our property in about 6 to 8 weeks. I doubt that we will accept that offer, and I am still trying to determine just what might happen then. Iíll update this when we learn anything new.
Thanks for all the support that everyone has given us. It really helps to know that there are other people who see it the way we do and who care. I am planning on putting a link to a guestbook on the home page of this site, so feel free to put any comments there, but remember that the internet is a public forum.
Friday, August 11, 2006