Everett may seize land to fix Lowell landslide

  • Thu Jul 12th, 2012 7:17pm
  • News

By Debra Smith Herald Writer

EVERETT — On work days right around quitting time, the cars start to back up along Lowell-Larimer Road.

A landslide has narrowed the road heading out of the southeast edge of town to one lane, and it’s been that way for nearly a year.

Road workers can’t fix the problem because the city hasn’t convinced a farmer to let them on his land. Now the city is trying a different tack: taking what it needs.

The Everett City Council is scheduled to decide Wednesday if the city should seize an acre of land along Lowell-Larimer Road on grounds of eminent domain, in which the government takes private property through legal proceedings.

The land is owned by Hugh Henrickson, who raises beef cattle on 50 acres and lives on site.

Henrickson said he doesn’t want money.

“Straight up and honest, I’m not a greedy person,” he said. “I’m a common-sense kind of guy.”

What the farmer does want is for the city to fix a long-standing problem he says it caused.

View Lowell-Larimer Road slide in a larger map

Water is running from a nearby hillside onto his land. He said the flooding started when the city installed a drain under the roadway a dozen years ago.

He’s also concerned that once the city has access to his land, they’ll use it for other purposes beyond fixing the road.

He said the city initially offered him $1,500 for the land. He turned it down.

Last summer, the ground slid from under the shoulder of the hillside roadbed near the Lowell neighborhood, said Mike Palacios, the city’s real property manager. The site of the slide is adjacent to Henrickson’s land.

The city would prefer to reach an agreement rather than use eminent domain, Palacios said. If it comes to that, the city would compensate the farmer for the fair market value of his land.

The sticking point in negotiations seems to be that Henrickson wants the city to add a drainage pipe that would extend beyond the area the city plans to repair, Palacios said.

The city plans to add the drainage pipe as part of the work but only for the project area.

The property manager said the city has not investigated the cause of the water flowing onto the farmer’s property.

Henrickson visited the City Council last week to let them know he’s ready to offer the city the “full right to enter and construct their road repair project and future entry 24/7 for maintenance reasons.”

He passed out copies of a hand-written letter after reading it to the council. He said in the letter he didn’t want money.

“My only request would be to construct the road slide repair project in such a manner as not to negatively affect my future farming operation,” he wrote.

The letter ended with this postscript: “This letter is a heartfelt attempt to get this project done. Not to be used legally against me.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance Wednesday that would authorize the city attorney to file a petition in court to obtain property rights.

The city would ask for temporary access just below the slide area so the contractor can get to the job site, Palacios said.

The city would seek to retain a little more than a half-acre more as a public right of way, so workers can get to the site in the future if problems arise.

Even if the City Council approves moving forward, city staff would continue to try and negotiate a solution, Palacios said.

There’s no deadline to get the work finished, but the city would like to get it finished as soon as possible, said City Engineer Ryan Sass.

“We’re working on a slope with stability problems, so there’s a lot of advantage to working on it in a drier time of the year,” he said.

Before the lane closure, the city counted an average of about 2,100 vehicles per day both directions on Lowell-Larimer Road, Sass said.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.