Ellyn Ritchotte looks over the sharp ledge of the washed out road on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ellyn Ritchotte looks over the sharp ledge of the washed out road on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

After culvert bursts, 23 Tulalip Reservation residents stranded

In a neighborhood along Mission Creek, residents must now go up and down ladders to get to the outside world — with no solution in sight.

TULALIP — Steve Hall watched the water rise from the marshland on his property on the Tulalip Reservation on March 1.

The weather was particularly bad that day. A relentless cold rain pelted the area. Around 3 p.m., the culvert burst underneath the Aqua Hills neighborhood’s road, destroying the only path connecting the neighborhood in the 6500 block of 12th Avenue NW to the outside world.

Debris, such as cattails from Mission Creek, clogged the 1,000-ton culvert pipe beneath the road. Having spent decades degrading, the pipe couldn’t withstand millions of gallons of water. It exploded.

As a result, 23 residents have been stranded, forced to use ladders and makeshift walkways each time they want to leave the neighborhood. As of Thursday, there was no solution in sight.

Among the frustrated residents were two children, 9 and 16, who were forced to use the ladders to cross the washed-out road each day to get to school. The surface of the steel platforms was slippery, and water continued to run through the ditch.

Ellyn Ritchotte, left, watches while Steve Hall, right, navigates his way down a ladder to cross a section of washed out road on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ellyn Ritchotte, left, watches while Steve Hall, right, navigates his way down a ladder to cross a section of washed out road on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

One neighbor recently suffered a stroke. Another is a senior who has difficulty walking around. Emergency vehicles can no longer access the neighborhood.

Residents have been driving on a nearby trail to leave the neighborhood. Some of that property is on federal trust land. The Tulalip Tribes have put “no trespassing” signs around it, making the collapsed road the only option of escape.

Hall and his wife, Ellyn Ritchotte, have lived on the reservation for the past three decades. The houses in the neighborhood are on “fee land,” meaning there were no land restrictions on their purchase of the property. Many of the residents are non-Native.

Hall, the president of the neighborhood’s homeowners association, said he had never seen this much water in the marshland before. The water line was nearly 6 feet deep.

Debris in the water has been a consistent problem and it was only a matter of time before the culvert clogged up, Hall said.

Teri Gobin, chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, said tribe officials warned residents about the state of their culvert pipe a decade ago. The homeowners association is tasked with maintaining the road and culvert pipe, but the waterways are under the tribes’ jurisdiction. The stream feeds into the salmon hatchery further down the creek.

In 2022, property owners asked the tribes to remove beavers living in the marsh that were contributing to the debris. The Tulalip Tribes’ Board of Directors was willing to relocate the beavers, but a homeowner whose property sat immediately upstream of the culvert denied them access to their property, the tribes said.

“Tulalip neither owns nor collects taxes to maintain these parcels,” the Tulalip Tribes said in a statement. “The non-native residents are asking Tulalip to replace private infrastructure that is the homeowners’ responsibility, at the Tribe’s expense, and for the benefit of a handful of landowners.”

Hall said homeowners have been unable to clear debris without receiving permits from the tribes. Residents feel the destruction of the road is not their responsibility, because the debris in the upstream waterways was outside of their jurisdiction.

Some estimates for fixing the road and building a bridge approached $125,000, county spokesperson Kent Patton said.

“Snohomish County is very aware of the situation with the Aqua Hills neighborhood,” Patton wrote. “We understand the difficult situation this presents, since the residents are cut off from first responders and access. While the private road and culvert that failed are the responsibility of the homeowners, we are actively working with partners to determine how we might be able to assist them.”

Patton added: “We have reached out to the HOA and will continue to help find a solution to this challenge.”

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @snocojon.

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