Officials want teeth in nuisance ordinance
March 10, 2022
Wahkiakum County officials and citizens spent a good amount of time Tuesday discussing how to put teeth into the county Solid Waste Nuisance Ordinance.
They identified lots of problems and hurdles to overcome but ended the discussion without a clear path forward.
The county commission adopted the ordinance several years ago to help officials address situations in which property owners were leaving junk vehicles in road right-of-ways or otherwise storing vehicles or junk in a manner that created a public hazard.
The group discussed troubling problems: There is at least one property owner hauling material on county roads that leaves hazardous debris behind, and in other areas, squatters are moving onto property, collecting junk, and dumping sewage from their trailers or RV's.
The county Health and Human Services Department Director Chris Bischoff said department staff investigate complaints and write letters ordering compliance, but they're powerless to do much more.
"Every one of these, we've been in contact with them," he said. "What are we going to do? If you don't have enforcement at the end . . . "
Bischoff added that any enforcement authority needs to be carefully crafted so that it doesn't go overboard on people willing to take care of their issues.
Commissioner Dan Cothren commented that he is seeing an increasing problem with people squatting or homesteading on land.
"This is the biggest problem we having around here," Cothren said. "If something isn't done, it will just get worse."
An unidentified land owner said he has had people squatting his property for months and hasn't been able to evict them because of laws protecting homeless people.
Cothren and others suggested one way of addressing the problem was to go after land owners.
"There's got to be a mechanism to get back to the landowner," he said. "They're responsible."
County Real Property Rights Committee member Nick Nikkila suggested recommendations for enforcement measures come from the health department.
"To move forward, we could form a small committee with someone from the sheriff's office, the health department and a commissioner to develop recommendations," said commission Chair Gene Strong.