EVERETT — Dennis Keith pointed to the furnace that hung from his basement ceiling.
Periodic flooding of his basement required him to hang anything valuable from the ceiling or prop it up on makeshift tables built from wooden planks and buckets.
Keith blames Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway for the floods that have deluged his Lowell neighborhood basement with up to 3 feet of water for the past two years.
Railway workers no longer clear the culvert that carries nearby Bigelow Creek under the BNSF railroad tracks across the street from his home, he said. His old furnace and water heater were destroyed in one flood, as were stereo speakers, chairs and other possessions.
After unsuccessfully trying to get Burlington Northern to pay for the flood damage, Keith, 58, filed a lawsuit Feb. 25 against the company in Snohomish County Superior Court. He’s asking the company to reimburse him for what he said is $16,000 in damage to his possessions and to the foundation of his home.
The lawsuit also asks for $32,000 for what his attorney, Bruce Galloway, said is the decreased value of his $160,000 home because it is now in an "artificial flood zone." The lawsuit also asks for a court order to force BNSF to permanently keep the culvert cleared of debris.
Burlington Northern spokesman Gus Melonas declined to comment on the suit.
But in a Feb. 11 letter to Galloway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe claims representative Steve Brockwell wrote, "It appears to me that the culvert in question is not owned by the BNSF but is indeed the responsibility of the city of Everett."
However, Everett’s public works director, Tom Thetford, said the city doesn’t own the culvert. "All of my records indicate it is owned by Burlington Northern," he said.
Galloway sat in his Lake Stevens office displaying the Polaroid photographs of Keith’s basement immersed in what appears to be a few feet of water.
"It costs them money to clear any of their culverts," Galloway said of BNSF. "I imagine they consider it an expense they don’t want to incur. This is a relatively minor maintenance issue for the railroad, but a substantial damage issue for my client."
Keith said BNSF used a crane to clear the culvert in the past. Galloway said that even if Keith was able to clear the culvert himself, he would expose himself to legal liability by intruding on what Galloway says is BNSF’s property.
Keith’s neighbor, Mark Read, said he also has had flooding problems on his property. He said thousands of dollars of equipment, including boat motors and a generator, have been ruined by flooding.
Read, 54, said that for the first two decades of the 23 years he has lived in his home, BNSF workers regularly unclogged the culvert. About two years ago, the railway suddenly stopped clearing the pipe, he said.
Read walked across S. Second Avenue to the eastern side of the railroad tracks. He pointed at the culvert, which appeared to be blocked from gravel and sand. Water from Bigelow Creek was barely bubbling out.
Keith said he’s perplexed why BNSF doesn’t agree to keep the culvert clear.
"For them, this is a small problem," he said. "But this is my house. Everyone falls back on their house as their investment. If my house is not saleable, what can I do? I’ve already had to pay a lot of money to my attorney. I’m only bringing this suit because it’s the only way I can figure to get my home back."
Reporter David Olson: