By Ann McCreary
With negotiations at an impasse, state transportation officials are planning to use eminent domain to acquire property from a landowner near Benson Creek in order to repair flood damage on Highway 153.
Repairs to other sections of Highway 153, damaged by mudslides during severe rainstorms on Aug. 21, are mostly complete, said Kevin Waligorski, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project engineer.
Crews have been focusing on repairing damage near Canyon Creek and Leecher Creek while trying to negotiate with Patrick Fitzgerald, whose home at 2653 Highway 153 is adjacent to a section of road that was washed away when mudslides surged down Benson Creek.
The slides undercut the highway and eroded away the southbound lane next to Fitzgerald’s home. The highway has remained closed since the slides and traffic has been detoured to the Twisp-Carlton Road.
Plans developed by WSDOT engineers to repair the damage at Benson Creek call for laying an 83-foot-long, 8-foot-diameter pipe under the roadway to capture and direct runoff from the creek toward the Methow River next to Fitzgerald’s property.
Most of the project would take place on WSDOT right-of-way, but the outlet of the pipe would infringe on part of Fitzgerald’s property, Waligorski said. State transportation officials have been trying to negotiate with Fitzgerald to acquire about 440 square feet to allow the project to move forward.
Fitzgerald has told the Methow Valley News he disagrees with WSDOT’s design for the new culvert due to concerns that it is not adequate to withstand future slides and may result in damage to his home and property.
In early September, Fitzgerald withdrew permission for transportation and construction workers to access his property while repairing the highway, and has been unwilling to negotiate the sale of the parcel to the state to allow the proposed repair work to get underway.
Work to repair damage to Highway 153 and Highway 20, also damaged in the storm, is being conducted with federal funding under a 30-day emergency contract.
Land condemnation actions follow a lengthy process that includes administrative and court hearings, and can’t be concluded within the emergency contract timeline, Waligorski said.
In order to move the Benson Creek repair forward, WSDOT engineers have revised the design in order to keep the pipe off Fitzgerald’s land.
“The pipe is going to be on the same profile it was on. We’re just shortening it up by building a retaining wall” to support it on the down slope side of the road, Waligorski said.
The pipe length will be reduced from 83 feet to 65 feet, and instead of following the slope toward the river the outlet will sit on a 14-foot-high retaining wall built of geosynthetic fabric filled with rocks and dirt and reinforced with concrete.
“It will be a much more visible structure on the landscape” than laying the pipe on the slope as initially planned, Waligorski said. Large boulders will be placed beneath the outlet to dissipate flow of water from the pipe, he said.
Transportation crews have begun work to install the pipe on WSDOT property on the uphill side of the road and prepare the site for the retaining wall. The boundaries of Fitzgerald’s property have been surveyed and staked, and construction workers are not entering his property, which makes the work more difficult, Waligorski said.
He said the Benson Creek project should be completed within three or four weeks.
“At least this will get the highway open,” Waligorski said. “We’re pushing to get it done before the emergency contract ends.”
A legal notice about the property condemnation action appears in this week’s Methow Valley News, stating that WSDOT is preparing a request to the state attorney general’s office to acquire Fitzgerald’s property through condemnation.
A final action meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 at the office of WSDOT’s regional administrator in Wenatchee. The property owner is able to provide information for the state to consider at that meeting.
Headed for court?
Fitzgerald said Tuesday (Sept. 30) that he was not aware of the proposed property condemnation, and is choosing not to talk with WSDOT officials. “I’ll wait to get served papers and we’ll go to court,” he said.
Waligorski said WSDOT has worked with property owners near the Leecher Creek washout, installing a 93-foot-long culvert, filling in washed out areas near the highway to create more useable space for local residents, and installing boulders to armor a deep ravine created by the torrent from the Leecher Creek drainage.
At Canyon Creek, crews worked to put the flow of water back into its original channel and installed a 42-inch-diameter culvert to capture future runoff, Waligorski said.
Work is continuing on Highway 20, where Frazer Creek changed its course during the storm, washing out sections of highway and gouging deep crevasses alongside the road.
Two sections of roadway are being realigned to move them away from the creek. Once that work is complete, the 24-hour pilot car traffic control can be removed during non-working hours, Waligorski said.