City officials from both White Salmon and Bingen are expressing concern about road and soil excavation taking place in the hills overlooking the city of Bingen.
However, the owner of the property, Merlin Vezina, contends the complaints are misguided. Vezina explained that road work on the site is taking place simply to accommodate building a fence line for an adjacent property owner.
The city of White Salmon, which has been involved in preliminary discussions with Vezina regarding possible annexation of the land into White Salmon, issued a "procedural stop action" on Oct. 22 to halt any further work on the site, pending review.
The city is threatening to deny Vezina's annexation application outright if he does not do so.
The fence work was being done on property owned by Vezina, who has proposed building a subdivision on the hill. The site in question -- a 49.4-acre parcel -- was recently the subject of annexation proceedings in the city of Bingen, and is now under consideration for potential annexation to the city of White Salmon. The parcel is currently located in an unincorporated area of the county and not within either city.
Vezina is seeking to annex his land into either Bingen or White Salmon in order to open the way to have water and sewer services on the property. Vezina has proposed building as many as two dozen upscale homes on the land.
Vezina said the work has nothing to do with a potential subdivision project.
"I'm only building a fence, and cleared the right-of-way of an existing pioneer road that was there," Vezina explained. "I wasn't working on my subdivision. There's where the problem was -- they got misinformation there. I cut some trees and scraped some dirt to get over to Burdoin Mountain Road. Some bikers were complaining we covered the trail there, but now there is a better trail than ever. You always get some people who complain."
With fire access one of the primary concerns in any annexation effort, the road grading is designed to loop back onto the old Burdoin Mountain Road so the site is not served by one dead-end road.
Wil Keyser, White Salmon's public works director, said Vezina agreed to discontinue any road excavation other than what was necessary to put in a fence line.
"We will go out and determine what he has done and what he hasn't done and then determine if we go forward with his annexation or not," Keyser said.
"Everything is on hold," Vezina confirmed. He added that he would meet with representatives from the city of White Salmon and Klickitat County on Nov. 7 to clear up the situation.
Keyser said the city's concerns were technical in nature. In a three-page "notice of stop action," the city noted the following: "The petitions for annexation of the subject Vezina properties into the city of White Salmon consider the properties in their existing character and condition at the date of submittal of the petition. No further physical property modifications, revisions, or activities for site improvement that is subject to the regulations and provisions of the city of White Salmon subdivision ordinance is to occur during the processing of the petition for annexation. Failure to comply with the above noted requirements of the city of White Salmon may result in the city's immediate rejection of the Vezina petition for annexation."
"Whatever he has done before the date of his annexation submittal is his business," Keyser explained. "But if there have been any modifications or changes, including roads cut in, we may throw out his application until he mitigates or resolves whatever he has done."
Keyser added that he does not yet know if there is cause to hold up the annexation proposal.
"I think this is one of the events in the process," he said. "This is just procedure for us. We will not consider the annexation until we have a further determination."
On Aug. 21, Vezina's initial application -- for annexation of his land into the city of Bingen -- was rejected by the Bingen City Council. Council members said they were worried about possible fire danger and stormwater runoff, as well as the city's lack of an adequate subdivision ordinance that could satisfactorily address those issues.
In a letter to Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck, Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel expressed his city's concern about road construction going on in an area just outside the Bingen city limits. Prigel advised Struck that the work Vezina was doing was potentially dangerous.
"During the week of Oct. 15, Mr. Vezina was working a backhoe and cat on his property and disturbing land," Prigel wrote in an Oct. 26 letter. "A number of rocks rolled down the hill and into a large shop building and residence located in Bingen. Some of these rocks were quite large and could have caused bodily harm if an individual happened to be in the way. As it was, the boulders caused damage to both structures. The city is concerned that excavation on this property without proper supervision and permitting could result in the endangerment of life and property within the city limits of Bingen."
Prigel said he believes the work Vezina was engaged in was significant enough that it ought to be reviewed by state agencies.
"We think he's disturbing enough ground to trigger action by the Department of Ecology or the Department of Natural Resources as it relates to the permitting process," Prigel explained.