Homes threatened by Dungeness River vacated; Jamestown S’Klallam tribe makes plans for floodplain restoration

The Dungeness River continues to threaten two homes on the Dungeness River on Serenity Lane

The Dungeness River continues to threaten two homes on the Dungeness River on Serenity Lane

SEQUIM — A restoration effort will begin soon after all tenants living in the path of the Dungeness River have left.

Matt McWilliams, 60, and his family and neighbors vacated Tuesday their rental homes at Serenity Lane, about 2.5 miles south of U.S. Highway 101 off River Road.

The homes are threatened by erosion from the Dungeness River.

They had received a 20-day vacate notice from the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe that ended Feb. 29.

The tribe purchased 20 acres from the Robinson family in Seattle, which includes McWilliams’ rented home, for $1,218,000 using the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants and just over $204,000 in matching funds.

Robert Knapp, Jamestown habitat restoration planner, said the tribe is in negotiations to purchase nine more neighboring acres from two different property owners.

“We’re hoping to have an agreement soon,” he said.

Restore floodplain

The tribe intends to restore the floodplain for salmon habitat as part of its ongoing Dungeness Floodplain Restoration Project.

The project will retire six development rights, move four residences from harm’s way, remove infrastructure from the floodplain and preserve floodplain habitat and salmon habitat-forming processes.

After the homes are emptied, excavation crews will remove the structures quickly and carefully, looking for and removing asbestos, Knapp said.

The effort, tribal officials said, benefits such fish as chinook, bull trout, summer chum salmon and steelhead fish species along with coho, pink and fall chum salmon.

Tribal officials plan to install native plants in areas not already taken by the river.

Fight against the river

McWilliams, who lived in a rental home along the river for more than three years, fought the river cutting into his backyard by placing logs and debris in the water and channeling the current elsewhere.

However, his back porch continues to dangle over water and may have fallen in if not for the support wires he installed.

He and neighbors have been offered comparable dwellings through Epic Land Solutions, a contractor for the tribe, to rent or buy similar homes, but they hadn’t accepted any offers as of Tuesday.

Once a home is found, the tribe will pay rent if it’s more than the tenants’ current rent for 42 months or in an equal lump sum for a mortgage along with moving expenses within a certain geographical area. If needed, storage space will be paid for three months, too.

But McWilliams and neighbors say they haven’t been satisfied with the offers.

McWilliams said he wants to be near water and trees in a similar price range while neighbors Randy Kanouff and Maria Belair, who have lived in their rental home for nine years, say the nearest comparable home takes them away from their livelihood.

“The comparable home is 14 miles away in Port Angeles,” Belair said. “It’s 8 miles to the store, and here, it’s 2.5.”

Belair said they were denied an extension to stay in their home until they find a comparable one.

Storms flooded the area last year and nearly took the river’s current into McWilliams’ home in December.

Both neighbors plan to stay in hotels at their expense until they find or are offered comparable homes to their liking.

While McWilliams hasn’t liked the relocation efforts for him and his neighbors, he does support the project.

“I fully support this project and floodplan restoration and salmon runs,” he said. “I’m 110 percent behind this.”

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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