By Ann McCreary
Patrick Fitzgerald will “vigorously resist the state’s efforts to condemn his land” in order to repair a washout on Highway 153 at Benson Creek, according to a statement from his attorney.
Fitzgerald has refused to negotiate sale of a right-of-way and has refused permission for repair crews to enter his property in order to repair a section of highway damaged during floods caused by torrential rains on Aug. 21.
The stalemate has delayed the repair and opening of Highway 153, which was closed after the floods and mudslides swept down burned drainages at Benson, Leecher and Canyon creeks.
Fitzgerald opposes Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plans to replace a 3-foot-diameter culvert at Benson Creek that was washed out during the deluge with an 8-foot-diameter culvert.
Fitzgerald said he is concerned that the larger culvert won’t withstand potential future runoff and poses a risk of flooding for his house and property, which is adjacent to the washed-out section of highway.
A statement sent this week to the Methow Valley News by Fitzgerald’s attorney, Michael Brady of Winthrop, cited predictions about post-fire sediment included in the Burned Area Emergency Response report issued last month.
For Benson Creek, one of the most heavily burned drainages, the report estimated a total of 9 tons of sediment would have been produced in the drainage during a storm pre-fire, and a total of 1,101 tons produced after the fire — a 11,581 percent increase.
In order to accomplish the highway repairs without entering Fitzgerald’s property, WSDOT engineers revised plans to shorten the length of the culvert and construct a retaining wall to contain the project within WSDOT right-of-way.
Project manager Kevin Waligorski said plans call for placing large boulders in the channel below the outlet to dissipate the flow of water from the culvert. The boulders would lie partly on Fitzgerald’s property; however, transportation officials are determining whether the project can be completed without infringing on his property, Waligorski said.
“There’s a possibility we wouldn’t continue with the condemnation,” he said.
Brady said Fitzgerald intends to make his case at a WSDOT state administrative hearing on Oct. 15, at which the decision about condemnation will be made. The meeting will be held in the office of the WSDOT North Central Regional Administrator in Wenatchee.