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WA: Snohomish County Uses Eminent Domain, Keeps Property And Payment

Following the vein of waste, fraud, and abuse, Watchdog Wire has discovered the story of a woman in Snohomish County who, after an eminent domain agreement beginning in 2008, was subsequently relieved of both her property and, after a lawsuit filed against her, the money intended to compensate her for it.

Our story begins with Kay Kohler and her family’s farm. Kohler inherited the farm, which had been in her family since the 1930’s, and was a largely undeveloped plot of four and a half acres in the midst of increasing development projects within Snohomish County. Despite Kohler and her family attempting to receive the permits to develop the land, the requests were rejected by the county.

It was 2008 when Snohomish County contacted Kay Kohler and informed her of a road expansion in the works and their need to use some of her property. The county determined that the value of the land totaled at $404,000 and offered this amount of money to Kohler in exchange for the land. Kohler accepted, and signed a Possession and Use Agreement to seal the deal. This agreement is important, and we’ll touch on exactly why in a moment. However, for the time being, the agreement proceeded as many other eminent domain agreements do.

It was only when Snohomish County approached Kay Kohler a few months later, demanding the money to be returned, that the situation went awry. The county’s justification for this action was that the land had been inaccurately assessed – Snohomish County claimed that Kohler’s land was actually a wetland, and significantly dropped the land value accordingly. However, Ed Kilduff, a licensed hydrogeologist who frequently deals with wetland designations in the state of Washington, asserts that Kohler’s land has never been considered a wetland, and shows no indication of being a wetland.

“If you look at US Fish and Wildlife maps, the National Wetland Inventory, it’s not shown as a wetland on those maps,” Kilduff says, “so it’s never been a wetland, but they’ve identified it as a wetland and devalued it and gotten a good deal as a result.”

The county’s assessment comes out of the blue.

Snohomish County subsequently filed a lawsuit against Kay Kohler to secure the return of the money paid in compensation for seizure of the property. The county was successful in this suit, with Kohler’s appeal unsuccessful, leaving her required to return most of the money paid in compensation, as well as forfeit her land. The county has since bulldozed most of the property, installing a storm water runoff and retention pond and diverting a large amount of storm water onto the property.

Kohler, on the other hand, has been left both without her land and the supposedly agreed upon $404,000 to her name. With legal fees piled on top of that, and no property to serve as her retirement, Kohler doesn’t know what to do.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “it’s your future that they’re really messing up.”

The key point in this story is the Possession and Use Agreement that Kohler signed with Snohomish County. The document, which Kohler trusted in and signed without legal counsel, established that the “just compensation” for the property would be decided at a later date, and included no further specification or protection for the citizen involved in the agreement. This document allowed Snohomish County to renegotiate the terms of the agreement – and the value of the property – at a later date, permitting them to retract the initially agreed upon compensation.

The lesson to be learned from this story is that legally binding documents from local governments are not to be trusted. It is unknown whether other Washington counties have used this Possession and Use Agreement to pull the same trick on other landowners in similar eminent domain cases, but WatchdogWire advises that any citizen faced with one of these agreements, or any legal document presented by a local government for that matter, be extremely skeptical and consult qualified legal counsel regarding the matter before signing or taking any action.

The Freedom Foundation in Washington State is responsible for uncovering this clear case of government waste, fraud, and abuse, and has produced a video highlighting the details of the case in their Tales of Tyranny series. WatchdogWire will give you updates as we dig further into this case and the nature of Possession and Use Agreements.

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H/T: FreedomFoundation


Categories: Courts & Law, Government Transparency, Must Read, News, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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