The car in the Sauk River around May 10 outside Darrington. (Jon Allen)

The car in the Sauk River around May 10 outside Darrington. (Jon Allen)

It ‘doesn’t belong’: Crashed car still in wild and scenic Sauk River

The vehicle has been there for six weeks. One man wants it gone, but officials say the river is too dangerous.

DARRINGTON — A car in the Sauk River is likely to stick around for a while, according to authorities, and it’s got at least one local fuming.

On the night of May 6, a 25-year-old Arlington man drove the car into the river at Backman County Park outside Darrington. The driver swam to shore and was arrested for investigation of DUI, resisting arrest, third-degree assault of a police officer, and obstructing law enforcement.

The car, a silver sedan, floated about a half-mile down the river before it settled behind a rock. Six weeks later, the partially submerged car is still there.

It’s been an ongoing frustration for Jon Allen, 65, who lives on the Sauk River. A tributary of the Skagit, the 45-mile river is wild and scenic, a federal designation shared by just a tiny fraction of the state’s 70,439 miles of rivers.

“If it’s a wild and scenic river, the car doesn’t belong in the river,” Allen said.

For weeks, he contacted state and federal agencies about removing the car and “no one has done anything,” he said. He worries about impacts to salmon habitat as the spawning season nears.

Local and state agencies said high river flows have delayed retrieving the car, and it’s unlikely a tow truck could easily access the site.

State officials see no pressing environmental concerns. The car’s pollutants have long washed away, Department of Ecology spokesperson Ty Keltner said in an email. A spill response team visited the site after the incident.

Department of Fish & Wildlife spokesperson Chase Gunnell said the car likely won’t block migrating salmon, steelhead and trout, who are used to navigating large objects in the river.

Allen sees it differently.

“We’re supposed to be environmentally sensitive and aware of Mother Nature and everything up here in the Evergreen State,” he said. “You can kick this can down the road all you want. There’s a car in the Sauk River, and it doesn’t belong there.”

Allen, a retired civilian employee with the Department of Defense, worked for the Army Corps of Engineers for six years in Afghanistan.

“The way to do this job correctly would be to get a military helicopter and pull that car straight up and out,” he said.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources is working on a plan to extract the car, agency spokesperson Joe Smillie said. Removing it with a helicopter is an option.

The department is also working to notify the car’s owner so it can legally take custody of the car and remove it. Smillie said the process would be similar to the state’s derelict vessel removal program.

He blamed high river levels and the inaccessibility of the site for delays. In addition, “it took us a while to realize that we as the landowner are going to have to remove it,” he said by email.

The natural resources department manages the state’s aquatic lands, including many rivers. Staff first visited the site in-person on June 6, Smillie said.

“I also do want to stress again that while it took us that long to get out there, there were local agents and Ecology officials on site prior,” he said by email. He added there would have been more urgency if “the car posed an immediate and dire environmental hazard.”

Previously, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office had been working to recover the car, but determined river conditions were too dangerous for the swift water rescue team, spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said in an email.

On June 10, Allen contacted Snohomish County Council Member Nate Nehring about the car. He said Nehring was the first to do anything about it.

Nehring emailed the county’s public works director, Kelly Snyder, and conservation and natural resources director, Tom Teigen.

“I think the concerns Jon expressed were valid and I share those concerns,” Nehring said.

Teigen said June 10 was the first he learned of the situation. He plans to visit the site this week. Park rangers have already been out there.

“The county is more than willing to assist (the Department of Natural Resources) or any agency on removing the car,” he said.

Allen said he is disappointed in what he sees as a lack of coordination and initiative. The longer the car sits in the water, he noted, the more it fills with silt and rocks and “winds up being an anchor.”

“Nobody wants to take the bull by the horns and be accountable,” he said.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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