July 1, 2013

My husband Ken and I have settled our three-year dispute with Island County over the creation of a new patio in our backyard.

Island County has agreed to cancel its $37,000 in fines and has agreed to return $2,000 in filing fees we paid earlier. In return, we have agreed to pay Island County a nominal $5,000 to acknowledge that we made mistakes in the permitting process. And, our third scientific report from a licensed, qualified hydro-geologist will be given to Island County shortly.

Two previous reports from licensed qualified hydro-geologists found no wetlands on our property and we fully expect that the third report will reach the same conclusion. Ken and I paid for all three of these reports. The costs we have incurred have been in excess of $50,000. We will not be reimbursed for those costs. 

In many respects, our story of our painful dealings with local government over land use issues is a story that has been repeated many times by many individuals who have been subjected to pressure from a powerful government.

In our case, I became an elected official and my husband Ken became President of the Island County Chapter of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights.

We are relieved that our private nightmare is coming to an end, but we remain concerned about what happens to other property owners in similar circumstances.

If our county budget could afford it, I would support the appointment of a County Ombudsman or Ombudswoman who citizens could go to when they feel government bureaucrats are overstepping or abusing their authority. This has been successful in other jurisdictions, including in King County.

Today, a large majority of Americans nationwide do not trust our government at any level.

As Chair of the Island County Commission, I am trying hard to build renewed confidence in our own public institution. My own difficult experience is nearly over now, but I have learned a lot, and I want to put those lessons into action to protect our citizens – our customers – from government overreach.

For those of you who may want to know the ‘gritty details,’ the following is a summary of what happened to Ken and I over the past three-plus years.

My husband started enclosing a patio in our back yard which I wanted for egress from the second floor of the home in case of a fire.  He assured me he would get the necessary permit when the offices were open the next week. 

Our neighbors, hearing the activity, complained directly to the incumbent I was challenging and the complaint was acted on before any formal process took place.  To our surprise, documentation was found in the county records alleging we had a wetland on our property. 

With no evidence of where the alleged wetland was, it was assumed we violated it with some earlier landscaping work and enforcement orders began.

Stunned by the brazen nature of all this, the guilty until proven innocent approach, we went after the real violators who didn’t follow their own code.  Filing suit against them individually (Bob Pedersen the Planning Director, the incumbent commissioner who received the complaint and the inspector who made no effort to contact us or get the necessary warrant) gave the county a way of escaping the law suit.

Commissioner’s Price-Johnson and Homola brought the county in anyway by offering to defend the improperly acting staff.

My first week in office, I was greeted by a second enforcement order claiming $37,000 in fines.  Feeling the harassment from the county, we added them to the lawsuit.  We prepared for our day in court and even hired a hydro-geologist who concluded we had no wetland.

Judge Hancock would not allow the evidence, stating the planning director had the discretion to amend the order based on the new evidence. 

No extension was granted, the case was dismissed.  Commissioner’s Price-Johnson and Homola went after us for legal fees which Judge Hancock denied. 

The Planning Director, Bob Pederson, never amended the order.  Instead, he sent a misleading letter to the DOE and asked for their review.  Ultimately he denied the study of a state licensed scientist without filing a complaint with the licensing board.

He then repeated the actions with our second state licensed hydro-geologist review.

At this point, we gave up.  We needed the opportunity to present the evidence to a judicial body and that couldn’t happen until the permit was denied.

Never mind all the facts, corruption and abuse of power, what really mattered to the media and the dissenters, was that apparently the Emersons were destroying the planet and expecting to get away with it.

So here we are, almost exactly three years and $50,000 later, (that is our contribution, who knows what this has cost us taxpayers) being forced to provide a third study and pay $5,000.