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Future Unclear For Site

Vezina withdraws annexation proposal

Merlin Vezina's request to annex approximately 50 acres of his property into White Salmon has been withdrawn.

Vezina's withdrawal, addressed to the city of White Salmon and dated Nov. 8, was very short: "I have decided to withdraw my application for annexation to White Salmon at this time. Thank you."

The move marks the second setback for Vezina, who had an earlier application -- to the city of Bingen -- rejected by the Bingen City Council. Council members in Bingen said they feared that extensive development could stress the relatively steep slopes, possibly leading to heavy storm water runoff and landslides.

The withdrawal of his White Salmon annexation application came one day after a meeting at White Salmon City Hall with White Salmon's director of public works, Wil Keyser.

Vezina said he had no choice but to withdraw the application.

"White Salmon had me on a lockdown. I couldn't finish the fenceline for Kreps, and couldn't even get a permit for burning brush to clean up the area," Vezina said. "Also, I need to put water bars on to make sure there is no erosion. I had to do that."

On Oct. 22, the city of White Salmon had issued a "procedural stop action" to end further work on the property while the annexation application was pending with the city.

Vezina said Keyser declined to accompany him on a site visit of his (Vezina's) property.

"I had my geo-tech engineer with me, but Wil wouldn't even go on site and look at it," Vezina explained.

White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said the work Vezina was doing on the hillside was problematic.

"He says all he was doing is building a fence, but if it looks like a road, smells like a road, and quacks like a road, it's probably a road," Holen said.

Holen pointed out that the city is by no means anti-development.

"We are pro-development, but it has to be appropriate development," Holen said. "Clearly he has angered both cities, and private citizens. And he may be liable for action by the Department of Natural Resources or the Department of Ecology."

Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said he has received several calls from citizens concerned about development of the area.

"I just tell them to call the Klickitat County Commissioners," Prigel said. "It's in the county and out of our jurisdiction."

Prigel added that the commissioners have not responded to the city's letter of Oct. 26, in which Prigel asked for help from the county in regulating Vezina's activities on the hillside. Prigel said he has feared severe erosion or even a potential mudslide as a result of the work Vezina has been doing on the hill.

"It is worrisome," Prigel explained. "He claims he's just putting in a fence, but who needs a 20-feet wide road to put in a fence? It's sad, because the damage is done, and it will be difficult to fix right now."

Prigel said there is increased danger of runoff and other problems such as slides or channeled water.

"The dangers are there," Prigel said, adding that because Vezina had gone ahead without oversight from Bingen or White Salmon, that will make it difficult for Vezina to come back and request that either city annex his property later.

"If he chooses to petition Bingen again in the spring, I speculate that his current activities will be weighed in any decision we make," Prigel said.

On Monday, Vezina was on his way to St. Paul, Minn., to attend the funeral of his sister, who passed away last week.

Vezina said he wasn't sure what he would do with the land.

"I've got a chance to put it up for sale, but this funeral is my top priority," he said. "Everything is on hold for now. I may sell the property; I don't know."

Vezina said the fence project has been completed, so he will not have to do any more work on the parcel for now.

"The fenceline is in, so I'll leave it rest for now. It can set there for awhile, it's paid for," he said.

Vezina added that he has given his personal phone number to the staffs of both Bingen City Hall and White Salmon City Hall, so if anyone has any concerns they can call him directly.

"That gets the cities off the hook," he noted.

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