EVERETT — Snohomish County is suing a Lynnwood-area couple over unpermitted clearing and grading that obliterated a wetland and diverted a stream.
An emergency injunction and lawsuit was filed Friday. County code enforcement officials said stop work orders were ignored at an undeveloped lot near the intersection of Center and Beverly Park roads, just south of Paine Field. State and federal agencies have gotten involved, too.
The work with heavy equipment depleted the wetland that until recently carpeted the entire 1.4-acre lot. Mounds of dirt remain, as well as standing water.
“This is one of the most egregious and environmentally significant violations in our county’s history,” said Josh Dugan, a planning department manager.
Yatin Jain, who owns the property with his wife, Ashima, said he’s taken aback by the pressure from government agencies. What authorities initially called a fish-bearing stream, before determining there were probably no fish there, looked more like stagnant water to Jain, he said. He said he believed he was removing trash left by homeless people.
“I really feel like I really cleaned the neighborhood up, so I shouldn’t be penalized,” Jain said. “I just don’t want to be railroaded.”
Dugan said it appears a channel was dug to divert a stream away from the middle of the property. The stream, which is a tributary to Swamp Creek, had bisected the site.
SSB Trucking & Construction, based in Covington, also is named as a defendant in the suit. The county alleges the company performed clearing and grading work.
Bali Singh answered the company’s phone Wednesday and said it had nothing to do with the violations. He said the contractor had instructed drivers to dump loads at the site.
“Nobody told us to stop,” Singh said. “So many other trucking companies dumped loads before us.”
In the lawsuit, the county is asking the court to order the Jains to restore and remediate all of the unpermitted work.
The county investigated after receiving a complaint through a state agency.
After seeing apparent damage to the wetland, a code enforcement officer posted a stop work order April 25.
A few days later, the officer reported evidence of additional truck loads of dirt. The stop work sign had been removed. The officer reposted the order, but that sign also was taken down.
Two fines were issued in early May after work continued.
In court papers, the county asked for an emergency restraining order, based on the repeated violations. The court approved the request Friday.
Dugan said it was highly unlikely the county would have issued permits for the work that was done.
“It’s nearly impossible to build in a wetland,” he said.
State and federal agencies have sent the Jains letters in recent days about possible violations.
Larry Altose, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology, said the agency is concerned about the loss of trees and shrubs that provide shade and help filter rainwater before it reaches the Swamp Creek watershed and its fish runs.
“It keeps the water cool,” Altose said. “It keeps the water clean. And it helps balance the rate of flow.”
The Jains purchased the land in January for $96,000, according to county records. The couple also owns the adjacent property, which is being used for storage. The area is zoned for business parks.
Yatin Jain, 43, has worked in construction most of his adult life. He has felony convictions for money laundering and marijuana possession with intent to distribute. Authorities at the time accused him of using drug-dealing proceeds to buy real estate.
Work to alter the path of the stream caused long-term damage, Dugan said.
“Getting it back into a functioning ecosystem is going to be a challenge and a big effort,” he said.
Authorities are continuing to monitor the situation. The county wants the owners to take action immediately to stabilize the site. Yatin Jain allowed state and county biologists to inspect the property Wednesday.
Polluting state waters, including wetlands, violates federal and state laws. It carries a penalty of up to $10,000 for each day the violation occurs.