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Dispute between neighbors leads to lawsuit against county

MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD This file photo from 2011 shows Pacific Beach resident Norm Vick on the border of his property where his neighbor placed a row of ecology blocks to hold loads of fill. The neighbor, Robert Betcher, admitted to having the work done without the proper permits. Betcher removed the top stones and some fill, but Vick is now suing Betcher and Grays Harbor County claiming negligence.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD This file photo from 2011 shows Pacific Beach resident Norm Vick on the border of his property where his neighbor placed a row of ecology blocks to hold loads of fill. The neighbor, Robert Betcher, admitted to having the work done without the proper permits. Betcher removed the top stones and some fill, but Vick is now suing Betcher and Grays Harbor County claiming negligence.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD This file photo from 2011 show dirt fill and concrete ecology blocks stand where there was once forest at the boundary between neighbors in Pacific Beach. The wall has since been taken down to one stone high.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD This file photo from 2011 show dirt fill and concrete ecology blocks stand where there was once forest at the boundary between neighbors in Pacific Beach. The wall has since been taken down to one stone high.

A Pacific Beach man is suing Grays Harbor County and his neighbor alleging that the county has been complicit in allowing his neighbor to fill wetlands, cut down a forest on county-owned land and even erected a 5-foot tall cement wall on the line between their two properties, which is now damaging his foundation.

Norm Vick says the situation has been continuing since 1998 but got worse in 2010 when neighbor Robert Betcher placed hundreds of yards of fill behind an ecology block wall, located just one foot from Vick’s house. They live on 4th Street in Pacific Beach. Everything came to a head in February of 2011 when Betcher tried to retroactively apply for permits before the county commissioners, but the commissioners rejected his application. The county Planning & Building Office then began fining Betcher for his activity and ordered him to come into compliance.

However, Vick’s attorney Chris Crew of McCleary says the county’s orders have never had any teeth to them and although fines were levied, Betcher has yet to pay anything to the county.

About the only major change Betcher has done is remove the top layer of the ecology brick wall, leaving it just one brick high, Crew said.

The lawsuit, filed April 26 in Grays Harbor Superior Court, notes that the county fined Betcher $1,000 per day back in 1998 when Betcher cut down a forest on county land between Betcher’s property and Vick’s property. Crew notes that Grays Harbor County “has still not enforced this fine against Mr. Betcher.”

In 2010, the lawsuit says Betcher cut down more trees in the alleyway between their two properties and installed the ecology brick wall, filling the land behind it with sad and covering it with bark. That alley way was also on county property. Crew also alleges that Crew removed a 40-year-old cedar fence, which was installed by Vick’s father.

“In the 69 years, Vick has lived at the residence, flooding has never been a problem until Mr. Betcher filled in the alleyway,” the lawsuit states.

Between 2010 and 2011, Betcher allegedly put more fill behind his residence on Joyce Creek without a permit and filled in the alleyway and was fined $400 a day by Grays Harbor Planning & Building, totaling approximately $70,000 in fines, “which Mr. Betcher has never paid to the county,” the lawsuit notes.

“Mr. Betcher is unwilling to follow the county land-use laws and Grays Harbor County is enabling him to continue to proceed with his landscaping project because of their unwillingness to enforce 1998 fines and the 2010/2011 fines,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit notes that when the Planning & Building Department ordered Vick to remove the ecology blocks and fill, he was liable for a daily fine of $200 per day after the Dec. 2, 2010 until he complied with the county’s order. But the county never enforced that order either and those fines still have not been collected today.

Crew is alleging negligence on the county’s part for never enforcing its orders against Betcher or collecting the fines, and trespassing and negligence for the damage caused to Vick’s property both from property damage and structural damage.

The suit seeks damages to be proved at trial.Betcher has yet to respond in court to the lawsuit. The Grays Harbor County commissioners recently referred the lawsuit to the Prosecutor’s Office.

Grays Harbor Public Services Director Kevin Varness said he didn’t have an immediate answer for why the fines against Betcher have gone uncollected. Varness said the county is collecting the files with the case to turn over because of the lawsuit.