SEQUIM — Clallam County officials are trying a new strategy for dealing with chronic code enforcement cases and are now asking Clallam County Superior Court for permission to clean a Sequim-area property.
In the first such case in recent years, the county has filed a complaint for warrant of abatement in Superior Court, asking a judge to declare the property at 313 McDonnell Creek Road, Sequim, a “public nuisance” and to authorize the Clallam County Sheriff to enter the property and abate “all ‘public nuisances’ found to be present.”
The county would bill the property owners for the cost of the cleanup, which would become a lien against the property.
David Alvarez, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, said seeking a warrant of abatement is a “last resort” after other code enforcement efforts have failed.
The property is littered in mounds of garbage, has several recreational vehicles and trailers, has several junk vehicles and sewage is not being dealt with properly, according to the lawsuit filed against Brad and Suzanne Pound on March 7. The lawsuit was filed through the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and was verified by the county Health and Human Services and county Department of Community Development departments.
On the property are two trailers filled with solid waste, according to the lawsuit.
Residents on the property have “improvised hookups for septic disposal,” the lawsuit said, and there is a portable toilet on the property.
The county offered to allow the property owners to dump the solid waste at no cost at the Port Angeles Regional Transfer Station, but the the property owners haven’t gotten rid of the garbage, according to the lawsuit.
“The violations … are longstanding and are in direct violation of numerous state regulations and county codes,” Alvarez wrote in the lawsuit.
Efforts to reach the property owners in person and on social media were unsuccessful. The property owners had not responded to the lawsuit as of Thursday. An unidentified man visiting the property Wednesday said the mess had “gotten out of hand,” and that there is an effort to clean it up.
Alvarez said he would hope a judge would grant the warrant of abatement this spring and the cleanup could happen early summer.
Alvarez was previously an attorney for Jefferson County, where he said he has seen success with this strategy.
Several county officials said this is the first time the county — at least in recent years — has asked for a warrant of abatement. They were unsure whether the county has used a warrant of abatement in the past, but all agreed it hasn’t been used in recent code enforcement efforts.
The Department of Community Development (DCD) is beefing up its code enforcement program, adding a part-time field officer and a customer service specialist, who both will aid Barb McFall, the county’s only code enforcement officer.
The department also is looking at other strategies to encourage property owners to clean up, including involving a hearing examiner.
The DCD usually tries working with landowners to gain voluntary compliance before trying more severe tactics.
With this property though, sternly-worded letters haven’t been enough to encourage the homeowners to clean the property, Alvarez said.
“A lot of people take letters from the county and put them in the circular file,” Alvarez said. “We’re just frustrated and feel this is the only route.”
Sheriff Bill Benedict said he is confident the warrant of abatement also would help with many law enforcement issues associated with the property.
Benedict described the property as “an encampment of people living in RVs that are not properly set up,” where there is criminal activity, including drug use and dealing.
He said the warrant of abatement is not intended to address criminal activity, but said “I know it will help.”
Peter Humleker, who also lives on McDonnell Creek Road, said his neighbor’s property is a “prefect” selection for a warrant of abatement.
“It just needs to be taken care of,” he said. “I’m hoping this court action will result in something, but nothing has resulted in anything for years.”
He feels the property has led to decreased property values.
Humlecker, who moved back to the North Olympic Peninsula in 2015, said he never would have bought the property had he known about his neighbor’s property.
He estimated that on weekends about 20 vehicles per day visit the property and said the property is most active late at night and in the early morning.
He said many of the people who visit his neighbor’s property speed down the neighborhood’s private dirt road, causing deep potholes that others in the neighborhood can’t afford to repair.
Humlecker said he is hopeful the county’s latest efforts with the property will be successful.
“If the county is willing to try out this new system of enforcement, then that’s all we can do now. I’d love to see it taken care of with this court action.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].