CATHLAMET — The Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners held a hearing Jan. 19 on a proposed solid waste nuisance ordinance, taking testimony from county residents. The board later approved the ordinance 3 to 0. Commissioners Blair Brady and Mike Backman indicating originally they had not been in favor of an ordinance, but voted in favor based on comments from constituents.
Last year, the county placed an advisory vote on the November 2015 ballot which resulted in 70 percent of Wahkiakum voters indicating support for a junk ordinance. Testimony at Tuesday’s hearing also strongly favored it.
The resulting ordinance was developed by a committee of citizens appointed by commissioners. In developing the proposal, the committee conducted research on other solid waste nuisance ordinances around the state.
“I am very, very pleased that it passed,” said Lori Scott, a member of the committee that worked to develop the ordinance. “The reason this even came about was because there was public outcry for the commissioners to do something. ... We all recognized that Wahkiakum County is a really, really user friendly county and went to a lot of trouble to make sure that the ordinance would be non-offensive and user friendly.”
The purpose and intent of the ordinance is, “to regulate the proliferation of junk, junk vehicles, and/or solid waste from private property, provide monetary penalties for violations of this ordinance, and to provide procedures for the removal of junk, junk vehicles and/or solid waste.”
The ordinance states, “All property owners have the right to the full use and enjoyment of their property where such does not infringe on the rights of adjacent property owners. In instances where an individual’s actions significantly infringe on the use and enjoyment rights of adjacent property owners, the county may act to abate a nuisance.”
The ordinance includes a number of exceptions.
• “Up to three junk vehicles which are not parked within 50 feet from the centerline of a public road or on a shared easement; and placed so as to minimize public view, and which are kept free of accumulating garbage and other health hazards.”
• “Any junk and/or junk vehicles or significant parts thereof stored behind a sight-obscuring fence or densely planted evergreen hedge which is not less than six feet in height or within a completely enclosed building where it is not visible from the public right of way, public property, or private property. The fence shall conform to current Wahkiakum County codes and be approved by the Director (of Wahkiakum Health and Human Services).”
• “Any junk and/or junk vehicle that is completely enclosed within a building in a lawful manner where it is not visible from a public or private street or road or other public or private property.”
• “A junk vehicle that is stored or parked in a lawful manner on private property in connection with the business of a licensed dismantler/wrecker where the premises are fenced according to RCW 46.80.130.”
“Inoperable agricultural equipment located on land classified by the Wahkiakum County Assessor as farm and agricultural land.”
The ordinance will be administered by the Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services Department. The starting point will be a citizen complaint indicating the specific address of the property suspected to be in violation. Health and Human Services will then send a representative to determine if there is an actual violation. If a violation is determined to exist, the department will send out a notice of violation. The responsible party may enter into a Voluntary Abatement Agreement with the Department which specifies how and when the clean-up will occur.
If no agreement is reached, and the violation continues to exist, the department may issue a “notice of abatement.” This notice will set deadlines by which abatement must occur. Monetary penalties may also be assessed for violations of the ordinance. The penalty for a first violation is $125, second penalty $250, and third penalty $500. Within 15 days of receipt of the notice of abatement, the responsible party has the opportunity to request an appeal hearing with the department director. The director’s decision may be further appealed to the Wahkiakum Board of County Commissioners.
Ultimately, if the violation(s) is not abated, the sheriff’s office will oversee removal of the junk, junk vehicle, and/or solid waste and the cost of removal and disposal will be assessed against the responsible party.