2003 Mills Family Harassed by City for Cleaning up Storm Damage
In 2003 the Mills family, who are CAPR members, were excited to move into a newly purchased home in Duvall, Washington. Sitting on 2 ¼ secluded acres with many 150-foot-tall fir trees, the property felt like a park. All was well until December of 2006 when a wind storm hit the northwest. During the storm, 24 trees came down, landing on the house and garage, totaling the shed and also a Toyota 4-Runner SUV. The place looked like a war zone and the seclusion was gone with the house standing naked to its surroundings.
Following the storm, the Mills asked for and received permission from the city of Duvall to begin emergency clean up even though permission was not required for the emergency action. They then began the clean up, unburying the house and garage and the trees lying everywhere. As part of the clean up they consulted with tree specialists and determined that 19 hazardous trees in saturated soil that were leaning precariously would be taken down. That is when the real nightmare began!
Someone with influence complained that trees were being cleared in a wetland. City inspectors showed up and demanded that work be stopped in the middle of clean up saying that they had evidence that the property contained a wetland. That claim was never substantiated by the city and was subsequently refuted by a study conducted be SNR Company, a highly regarded environmental science consultant. The city proceeded to demand consultant studies, reports, mitigation plans and fees for the supposed damage. Additionally, they threatened fines and possible imprisonment of 90 days per each “offense”! The Mills were shocked at the thought of going to jail just for cleaning up and making their property safe to live on.
To make a long story short, they tried to work with the city to no avail. Even though the city never showed proof that there is a wetland on the property, it seemed that Duvall did not want to resolve this issue without taking a part of the property. The Mills eventually filed suit against Duvall but when it became obvious that the city was more interested in wearing them down then resolving the issue equitably, they dropped the suit. You will see below why the city took this route.
The Real Issue
A large part of the reason the Mills lost so many trees to the windstorm is that the property is acting as a storm retention pond for surrounding uphill developments. Inundated with water, the trees couldn’t stand in the saturated soils. With approval of the city, the storm systems of these developments were designed to shed their run-off onto the Mills property. These uphill systems became part of the city sewer system after construction. The water that is dumped on the property is then picked back up by the city system as it exits on the low side. In effect, they had made the Mills property an unwanted part of the of the city storm sewer system! And that is a violation of the city’s permit to handle storm waters and violates the federal Clean Water Act.
CAPR Takes Action
When this situation came to the CAPR Legal Fund, our first thought was “here we go again”. This was like too many situations we have seen where decent people get clobbered just for trying to take care of their properties. The Mills tried to work with the city to no avail. They even offered Duvall an easement across their property to transport city storm water in exchange for taking the wetland designation off the property. However, the city decided it would rather grind them up than admit to a mistake. The Legal Fund hopes to show them that was the wrong choice.
This case is unique for CAPR in that it offers a new way for us to help protect not only the Mills family but others in the future. Federal law makes it easy to file a Citizens’ Lawsuit for violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. In June of 2012, CAPR Legal Fund filed just such a suit in federal court against the City of Duvall. The “hammer” the City faces if found guilty will be fines in the tens of millions of dollars or more, resolution of the problem for the Mills family and recovery of legal fees. If the City decides to settle with CAPR before a final verdict, we will be able to help the Mills family get back to whole and maybe have a few bucks left for the next challenges that we have already identified. CAPR will gain additional clout for future actions to help property rights but maybe more importantly that we have a powerful new tool at our disposal.
We Need Your Help!
Legal actions are never cheap. The Legal Fund is very cautious with its actions for this reason. Should this go all the way to trial, costs will be significant. However we feel that the odds for this challenge are excellent. Please help the Legal Fund take this most important step.
You can donate online using the Donate buttons on this page or if donating by mail is more your style, please send your check to CAPR Legal Fund, 718 Griffin Ave., #7, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Please note on your check “Mills action”. Also note that the Legal Fund is an IRS 501(c)(3) and these donations are tax deductible.