Ebey Island mud pit sucks in second excavator

An unforgiving mud pit on Ebey Island swallowed its second excavator Sunday, leaving a contractor scrambling to retrieve not one but two expensive pieces of heavy equipment.

“About the best way to describe this is a case of bad luck and a bottomless pit,” said Fred Gossler, one of the workers for Pacific Reign, which is based in Grays Harbor.

The company came to Everett after it agreed to pay RSC Equipment Rental of Arizona $38,000 for salvaging rights to the stuck 2006 John Deere 200. A similar excavator would fetch as much as $200,000 new.

A four-man crew expected to spend just a few days extracting the excavator and walk away with a sweet deal.

Then things began to sour.

“It’s definitely an attraction,” Gossler said of the stuck excavators, which resemble mechanical mastodons sinking into a primordial tar pit.

Gossler said a number of “onlookers and tourists” stopped by and hiked past tall weeds for a closer look at the ill-fated rescue Monday and to wish the crew good luck in finding a way out of the mess.

The highly visible scene is situated north of the U.S. 2 trestle, just west of an environmentally sensitive wetland preserve.

Jeff Emery, one of the partners who owns Pacific Reign, was operating the second excavator when it, too started sinking into the pit. He said he underestimated the weakness of the soil.

His machine, resting on heavy wood pads, was tethered to the stuck yellow excavator with steel cables.

At first, Emery was able to budge the 20-metric-ton yellow excavator a bit from the thick mud. But it didn’t take long for his orange Hitachi to start sliding off the boards and into the muck.

“That stuff out there’s got no mercy for nobody,” said Emery, who worked until 3 a.m. Monday trying to free his rig. “I went out there blind and should’ve never went.”

Gerry Stajcar, Emery’s business partner, said a third excavator narrowly escaped getting mired.

Stajcar described Emery as one of the most skilled heavy equipment operators he has ever met, good enough to guide an excavator to gracefully lift a hat off someone’s head without touching a hair.

But Emery apparently was no match for the mud pit of Ebey Island.

The story began when Jim Clemetson, 48, of Everett, tried to cut a road to land that his mother recently bought on the island for $65,000.

Clemetson wanted to use the 4.5 acres to store trees and equipment for his landscaping business.

His dreams were dashed, however, when he learned that the state Department of Transportation would not allow him to get to his land by crossing under the trestle.

Clemetson negotiated an easement with his neighbor, and began cutting a driveway with a practically new, rented yellow excavator.

When it got stuck, he called for help. But the help split with his $15,000 before getting the job done and actually made things worse, Clemetson said.

The Department of Ecology is investigating the case and said Clemetson did not have proper permits to operate in the wetlands.

As far as he knows, he is still responsible for replacing the excavator and has turned to an attorney to learn about his options.

Clemetson, who said getting stuck was humiliating, found some comfort in knowing that he is not alone in slipping into the mud.”Do I feel less stupid? Yes,” he said.

Bruce King, Clemetson’s neighbor, said it is fortunate that no one has been injured.

So far, it’s just equipment, he said. “Swamp: 2. Excavators: 0.”

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