Lewis County Commissioner Gary Stamper (left) and Winlock Mayor Lonnie Dowell (right) survey a debris pile Monday evening at a planned subdivision in Winlock owned by Chehalis-based property owner Phil Smith. Both Winlock and the county have been attempting to compel Smith to remove the debris since last year and, in light of the ongoing violation, are preparing to explore additional legal options.
A large debris pile at a planned subdivision on the edge of Winlock continues to be a source of concern for city officials, who have begun discussing legal remedies and are hoping to avoid a costly outcome.
During the March 9 meeting of the Winlock City Council, officials said they feel their approach needs to be more proactive in compelling property owner Phil Smith to remove the debris, as efforts so far by Lewis County's Department of Health and Social Services have yet to see the matter resolved.
"If it was right downtown...people would be up in arms about it," said Council Member Aaron Mummert of the pile, which is near the eastern city limits and obscured from the highway by a bank of trees and hills. "Just because it's a little bit out of the way doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing something about it."
The debris pile first became a problem for the city after November of 2013 when Smith was hired to remove the remains of a two-story house from nearby industrial property owned by Benaroya. Rather than taking the debris to the dump, Smith relocated it to an undeveloped portion of Grand Prairie Mountain View Estates, a 200-lot planned subdivision near the intersection SR 505 and Kakela Rd., acquired by Smith in 2013.
Despite multiple citizen complaints, a pair of citations last June from Lewis County and a stop work order last September from Winlock halting progress on the subdivision, the debris pile remains and Winlock officials said they would like to explore what additional action they could take to correct the problem.
During the meeting, Dowell told the council Winlock has been following the county's lead so far because, if the city were to seek legal remedies on their own, they would have to pay for such services out of pocket, as they would not be covered under the current contract with City Attorney Erin Hillier.
He added, if the city were to take more direct action, such as hiring a contractor to clean up the debris and sending Smith the bill, doing so would likely cost tens of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee Smith would reimburse them.
"If you guys want the pile gone in the next couple of months," stated Dowell, "then we're probably going to have to spend about $20,000 to 30,000 to get the pile removed, and we won't get [the money] back."
The council said they would like to at least have Hillier draft a letter to Smith explaining the potential actions the city could take if the debris is not removed, while expressing reluctance at spending money not set aside in the budget for such purposes.
During the council's discussion, County Commissioner Gary Stamper, who had been in the audience as part of efforts to attend the meetings of councils in his district, stated he was briefly familiar with the situation surrounding the debris and would be eager to make contact with officials within the county on the city's behalf to see what type of progress is being made.
Stamper later visited the debris pile with Dowell after the meeting to see the violation for himself and remarked he felt it was "just horrible" that so much refuse had been left there for so long.
When this newspaper checked in with the county on March 11, Code Compliance Officer Bill Teitzel stated his department has continued to cite Smith's company, Grand Prairie Mountain View Estates LLC, for the violation, with the most recent infractions being issued Feb. 13 and March 11. Teitzel noted the fines for these violations had been doubled to $514 each as Smith had pleaded "committed" to a pair of similar violations issued last June, but has yet to pay for them.
A hearing to contest the new violations has yet to be scheduled, according to Lewis County District Court, as Smith must first respond and indicate a desire to challenge them. When contesting the citations last year, Smith sought two continuances, first due to medical treatments he told Judge RW Buzzard were related to a brain tumor, and second due to lack of legal counsel being present. He then agreed to pay for the fines in January, but failed to meet a Feb. 6 deadline by which to pay them.
When reaching out to Smith for comment on this article, Town Crier was given no reply prior to deadline, despite multiple attempts to contact him. In previous interviews, Smith has stated he has "no comment" on the matter.