Pierce County is cleaning up property on State Route 302 just west of 118th Avenue NW that had become a magnet for junk vehicles and other solid waste, according to Yvonne Reed, Pierce County code enforcement supervisor.
“There’s a history of complaints that goes back a few years,” Reed said. “The county council office had also asked questions about this in the recent past, but we didn’t have an enforcement case and couldn’t do this without a court order.”
The property consists of two parcels totaling almost 9 acres that straddle SR-302 and includes parts of Minter Creek. It is a section of a larger parcel originally purchased by Helen Skahan’s grandparents in 1905. Helen died there in 2015 at the age of 96. Her daughter, Catherine Skahan Carlson—who does not live on the property—is executrix of the estate.
“The most recent complaint we had was from the sheriff’s department,” Reed said. “They were getting calls for service out there and they know the types of violations we deal with, so they referred it to us.
“We had a meeting May 17 with the property owner and signed a right of entry agreement for cooperative abatement of public nuisance, which gives the county permission to enter the property and clean it up,” Reed said. “That’s why it moved along so quickly; they were just very cooperative and agreed to meet and talk about it.”
The county code enforcement arm, Pierce County Responds, is a nationally recognized program created in 2002 as a clearing-house for public-nuisance complaints and coordinates multiple agency efforts to resolve those complaints. When the county does the cleanup, it uses professional abatement estimators and contractors and keeps disposal costs down through recycling. The county recoups the entire cost of the cleanup by filing a lien on the subject property. Like all property tax liens, it must be paid in full with interest within three years or the property goes up for auction to satisfy the debt.
“There was a lot of solid waste, household garbage, junk vehicles and some dilapidated structures, including an old garage that was just taken down,” Reed said. All of the debris has been removed. “Across the road where the main residences are, that work has not been done yet,” she said. “We have to have a temporary bridge put in to get that work done and one of the houses will be taken down also.
“We anticipate the final work will be completed by the end of September,” she said.
Reed estimated the cost of abatement would exceed $50,000. If the estate does not reimburse the county within 30 days of completion, the county will seek approval to record a special assessment lien against the property.
Carlson, the executrix, declined to be interviewed for this article, but indicated that dealing with estate matters had been difficult and that the property will be sold when the cleanup is finished.
“I’m just happy we could get this done for the community,” said Councilman Derek Young (D-7th). “We were able to put together a team from multiple departments and agencies, and work with the family on a voluntary basis.”
Later in August or September, the council will vote on whether to increase the county’s enforcement powers. “We’re going to get some new authority to the prosecutor’s office and code enforcement to address persistent criminal nuisances and abate them in a similar way,” Young said. “We know it’s frustrating for folks that live in an area that has one of these properties in them.”
The council is also cognizant of the suspicion some residents have of government overreach.
“It isn’t uncommon for people to hear ‘nuisance’ and think it’s like a neighborhood’s covenants that tell me what color I’m going to paint my house,” he said. “But we’re going after serious abuses that are dramatically impacting the rights of the surrounding properties, not because their grass isn’t trimmed. Health concerns; illegal junkyards; those sorts of things. We’re not in the business of trying to take action on somebody’s property just because they want to live the way they live in a rural area.”
To report a nuisance property, call 253-798-4636 or go to code enforcement at www.co.pierce.wa.us.
Read Colleen Slater’s article on the history of the Skahan property in this month’s issue here.