Jefferson commissioners unanimously pass public nuisances ordinance

Measure addresses derelict vessels, abandoned vehicles and refuse in public rights of way

PORT TOWNSEND — The three Jefferson commissioners voted unanimously Monday to pass an ordinance on public nuisances in unincorporated Jefferson County that addresses derelict vessels, abandoned vehicles and refuse in public rights of way.

The ordinance with minor changes is effective immediately and will become part of the Jefferson County Code.

RCW 36.32.120(10) of state law provides counties with the power to declare by ordinance what can be deemed a nuisance, the abatement of a nuisance at the expense of the parties creating it, and to levy a special assessment on the land or premises where the nuisance is in order to defray cost or to reimburse the county for the cost of abatement.

Austin Watkins, Jefferson County civil deputy prosecuting attorney, told commissioners there is a two-prong test to determine if something is considered a nuisance.

“I want to point out the difference between a public nuisance and code enforcement in Jefferson County and the state of Washington,” Watkins said.

“Public nuisances are things that affect the reasonable use and enjoyment of your property and affect the community as a whole. These are very different from traditional code enforcement violations and it is a two-prong test.”

Watkins said that simply having a junk vehicle on a property doesn’t rise to the level of a public nuisance.

It has to meet the definition of a nuisance under common law and then enumerating nuisances through the code.

Based on public comments heard June 17 and on input from the Department of Community Development, the prosecutor’s office made revisions to the draft ordinance that was adopted.

In addition to clerical changes, the number of days a vehicle can remain stationary was extended from 14 to 60 days.

Also, service requirements for notification will be carried out by first-class mail. Funds collected under the nuisance regulations will be earmarked for an enforcement fund to be used for abatement and costs associated with nuisance enforcement.

The ordinance cites several specific nuisances include burning, civil codes, public right of way, salvage and stop-work order violations.

An inoperable vehicle is defined as a vehicle that has been in a stationary position for more than 60 days, appears to be unable to operate or move, needs repairs to be operable or is unable to move a distance of 20 feet under its own power on a flat surface.

This does not include vehicles that are stored within a building in a lawful manner and not visible from the street or other public or private property, or stored or parked in a lawful manner on fenced private property in connection with the business of either a licensed vehicle wrecker or dealer.

Personal property or waste belonging to an evicted tenant placed on a public right of way due to a court-ordered eviction that is not removed within 24 hours is considered a nuisance. Notice will be given to the owner of the property, and if the material is not removed, the county will seek to abate the nuisance and bill the property owner or designee.

The new ordinance also affects boats.

A derelict vessel is described as one for which the vessel’s owner is known and can be located, and the vessel has been left for a period of seven consecutive days, is sunk or is in danger of sinking, or is obstructing a waterway.

Penalties will be assessed for each type of nuisance.

For example, abandoned vessel/derelict vessels, vehicles and civil code violations will be charged daily penalties of $250 for the first violation, $500 for a second violation and each additional violation will be $1,000.

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Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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