News

Swamped without a solution

By Jacinda Howard, The Mirror

Anyone passing by Michael Lund’s home during the rainy season could mistake his blueberry farm for a small lake.

Lund is suing King County, claiming that roadwork completed near his home resulted in the abundance of water.

During inclement weather, water accumulates in large quantities on Lund’s property at 30408 38th Ave. S. in unincorporated King County. The excess water remains there throughout the winter before slowly drying by July, Lund said.

The water has caused damage to Lund’s land, home and septic system, he said. Lund said the problem began when the county finished its road construction.

Lund passes the time waiting for his court date by gathering signatures from people willing to testify on his behalf.

“I’m going to stay out here until (King County) does something,” Lund said.

Lund has sat in front of his home with signs attached to what he refers to as the “wall of shame on you King County” since Oct. 30. He has collected more than 200 signatures from neighbors and citizens, many of them neighbors who are familiar with his property.

As Lund stood holding signs Tuesday, a car stopped and two women emerged. They walked directly to the tent, where Lund’s petition rested, commenting on how they have lived in the area for years and went to school nearby. They sympathized with Lund and wished him luck in remedying his problem, which began two years ago.

Though he has support, the situation has been rough on Lund.

“I almost feel like crying sometimes,” Lund said.

Public problem is now a private problem:

Surface water runoff flows through a ditch running east to west on the south edge of Lund’s property. It travels toward 38th Avenue South and Lake Dolloff.

After a few days of hard rains, water would accumulate in the ditch, then flow over 38th Avenue South, causing vehicles to stall, Lund said. The water posed a danger to motorists, said Linda Dougherty, King County Road Services Division manager.

In September 2005, King County raised 38th Avenue South by approximately 1 foot and replaced a driveway culvert near Lund’s property, according to King County Superior Court records.

The construction was completed to prevent the water from flowing over 38th Avenue South during heavy rainfalls, Dougherty said. However, the county did not increase the size of a culvert underneath the road, according to court documents.

In Lund’s opinion, the county knew this would cause his 3.67 acres to retain water, but proceeded without altering the culvert anyway. County work crews assured Lund they were installing another culvert, but that never happened, Lund said.

Now, a portion of Lund’s property is under water most of the year.

“This is the new retention pond,” Lund said, pointing to his pasture.

The water accumulation did not occur prior to King County’s road project, Lund said. The height of the altered road now blocks the water from flowing over it, Lund’s attorney Jim Klauser said, and the insufficient culvert system cannot support the water.

Beyond the drowned land, Lund’s home has also suffered from cracked pipes and walls, sinking floors and a malfunctioning septic system, which surfaces raw sewage, as a result of the highly-saturated land, he said.

“We are living a nightmare,” Lund said.

Taking action:

The Lund family has spent thousands of dollars to repair the damages and pay attorneys to handle the case, he said.

Lund purchased heavy machinery to haul in wood chips in his quest to bury the sewage. He cut down 240 blueberry bushes that were endangered by the water and malfunctioning sewer system. Lund also replaced pipes in his home and payed attorney costs for more than a year, Lund said.

Before deciding to sue the county, Lund first attempted to collect on his insurance. When that did not work, he filed a Claim of Damages form with King County on Jan. 20, 2006, according to court documents.

When this went nowhere, Lund filed his lawsuit against the county on Aug. 16, 2006, requesting King County correct the conditions leading to the water retention on his land and award him an undetermined amount for the damage as a result, according to court documents.

King County reacts:

Though King County recognizes Lund has an eminent problem, it disagrees with his diagnosis.

The county admits to performing the roadwork on 38th Avenue South and not increasing the size of the culvert running beneath the road, but denies knowing these actions would result in the water retention on Lund’s land, according to court documents.

“From what we’ve reviewed so far, it does not appear to us that the problem Mr. Lund is having is something caused by the roadway,” Dougherty said.

The county wants to conduct more research and tests on the land to determine what is causing the water retention, Dougherty said.

Lund’s home sits in the 100-year flood plain and near a wetlands area, Dougherty said. In some cases, wetlands can be dryer some years than others, she said.

The county has done soil borings, which provide data such as the group, layering, texture and seasonal wetness of the soil. More work is scheduled for mid-November when hydrologists will evaluate the land and water run-off patterns, she said.

“It really does take some checking on to determine what is going on under the surface of the dirt,” Dougherty said.

The county is going beyond its normal measures to assist Lund, she said. Usually, it would not address issues that occur beyond the county’s road right-of-way, Dougherty said.

“We are doing our due diligence,” she said.

Any further road work on South 38th Street will have to wait until next spring, said Linda Thielke, King County Department of Transportation spokeswoman. The ditch where the water escapes from also feeds into Lake Dolloff, which houses fish, she said. The state regulates when work can be done near such waterways, she said.

Thielke was unable to say whether the county planned to install a culvert near Lund’s home or increase the size of the existing culvert, due to the fact that the lawsuit is still active, she said.

Even if the culvert were installed, sewer and gas lines — the locations of which the county is not fully aware of — would have to first be moved, she said. Lund does not believe this rationalization, but he will have to wait more than a year to bring his case before a judge.

Lund’s court date is scheduled for Nov. 10, 2008. While he awaits this date, both he and Klauser are busy preparing for the court appearance.

Klauser continues to investigate the case while Lund gathers signatures of support. Both are well aware that the water on Lund’s property will likely continue to accumulate as long as the rain is present.

“The problem is there; it is not going away,” Klauser said. “It is only going to get worse.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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