Think you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it? Maybe not in Index

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INDEX, Wash. — Months after a mudslide cut them off from their homes, residents are celebrating the completion of a new bridge over the Skykomish River near Index.

But there are some disagreements over who paid for the bridge — and who should get to use it.

“I think we still grin every time we drive across it,” Mark Bollman, president of the Mount Index Riversites homeowners group, said Monday.

He can now drive to his home.  He hasn’t been able to do that since a mudslide wiped away the major access road last winter.

“There was this feeling that our real estate was worth nothing,” Bollman said, referring to the time right after the January slide.  “You might as well shrug and give up.”

But many of his neighbors pitched in their own money. They convinced the Snohomish County Public Utilities Department to put in the rest, so they could get back to their community.

“To have this bridge up so fast, it is amazing,” said part-time resident Fred Slusser.

The land where the bridge is located is private property. So even before the mudslide, residents had to pitch in to take care of the roads.

“This is pretty much an eight-mile private driveway, and a bunch of us neighbors share the responsibility for this driveway,” said Bollman.

But not everyone has been paying their dues, so board members say not everyone should get to use the new bridge. There is a private gate leading to the bridge. Only residents who have paid up have been given the code to open the gate.

“To pay the road dues means you’re participating in the community, therefore you should participate with access,” explained Slusser. “If you’re not going to pay your dues, don’t think you’re going to get access. Why would you want to rip off the rest of the people in the community?”

Board members say they understand some people are on fixed incomes. That’s why they’re willing to give the code to those who are trying to pay.

“I certainly respect the folks who make a good-faith effort to make some regular monthly payment each month,” said Bollman.

“This is a whole community effort — it’s not just one or two people, or the board,” added Slusser. “If you’re making an attempt to be part of the community, then the community is yours.”

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29 comments

  • gary dittamore

    Well seeings how the county paid part of the bill as a tax payer I think that ALL people should be able to use the bridge, it’s a publicly funded road you see!

  • Jeff

    First… Gary, the county did not pay part of the bill. This was paid for by PUD, and the residents of this community.

    Second, there was a class action lawsuit filed by MIRCC against some of the residents here, who were delinquent in their asssessments, back in the early 2000s.

    In the “Findings and conclusions” by the court, and the Honorable Thomas J Wynn, judge, on the 19th day of August, 2009, we find this statement…

    “There is no adequate remedy at law, to enforce payment of implied easement road assessments. The Court, in this decision, will authorize MIRCC the authority to prospectively file a lein on property of those owners who are deliquent in their implied easement road assessments by 90 days or more.”

    In 2009 and before, MIRCC already had gates situated on the road coming into the community. Gates which could have been locked. And residents toild they had to pay their assessments or remain locked out.

    This was not considered a remedy at law. In other words, it is not legal to do so.

    If it was not legal then, it is not legal now. The laws have not changed.

    The court gave them as their sole remedy for collecting the debts… The ability to file leins of properties. Nothing more.

    By locking this gate and demanding payment for an unlock code, MIRCC is breaking the law. And going directly against the conclusion found by the courts and the Honorable Thomas J Wynn, Judge, in the above mentioned findings and conclusions.

  • Jim in Seattle

    It’s not a publicly owned or maintained road. We personally pay to keep the road drivable and it’s essentially a logging trail upgraded to handle cars. SnoPUD paid a portion of the bridge cost to get access to test the soil and water flow to build a power generation station that bypasses Sunset falls. https://www.snopud.com/?p=1956
    They needed to be able to get heavy equipment in and out safely and that couldn’t be done due to the land slide zone on the switchback. Originally SnoPUD was going to put a bridge in of their own at full cost to the ratepayers, so MIR is actually subsidizing SnoPUD. How long do you think the government would let you live somewhere without paying land taxes and water fees? By court order we are all assessed part of the road fees by a formula and we have to pay or we lose our property. It’s not a million dollars. I think the highest fee is $2400 per year or $200 a month.
    It’s also not the town of Index but a separate former campsite that was turned into a year round residence for those hardy enough to handle living waaaay outside the city limits. I’m a former road committee member.

  • Jim in Seattle

    The gate is on private land as is the bridge. There is a toll on the 520. The board was voted in and voted to pay for a bridge with funds from the contractually obligated citizens of our area. If everyone doesn’t pay and the payment isn’t made then we all lose the roads. The world doesn’t owe you a living. Get used to it.

  • Jeff

    Really? You don’t have any better argument than to cite examples that have absolutley no relevance, so you turn to personal insult?

    Good job.

    No one is asking for a living.

    I simply stated fact. It is illegal to lock that gate and deny access to residents who have not paid.

    This is the ONLY access to the lots on the upside of the landslide. No one HAS to use the 520 to get anywhere.

    Not only can this access not be denied, but it cannot legally even be restricted.

    No matter where it is located, it is illegal to put up a gate, and charge residents to get through that gate, when it is the only available vehicular access to their lawfully owned properties and residences.

    It’s the law. Get used to it.

    The “Board” is nothing more than a glorified road maintenance committee. They do not have any special ‘powers’. They are not in any way, governmental authorities. Or authorities of any kind.

  • Jim in Seattle

    That wasn’t intended for just you but for everyone who thinks they can play and not pay. Please explain why you think they shouldn’t pay their fair share? It doesn’t have to be paid all at once but paying nothing doesn’t work. Can you get power for free? Neither can I unless I buy solar equipment that doesn’t work in winter so I’m right back to square one. The law says we have to pay.

    • Jeff

      Thank you for the clarification.

      You are assuming that I think people should not pay. On the contrary, I think everyone who uses that bridge should pay. On this, I wholeheartedly agree with you. And your example is a good one.

      The law DOES say we have to pay. In fact the same judge made no bones about that fact. If you use the roads and the bridge, you are obligated to help pay for them. I agree with that as strongly as anyone.

      But you can’t break the law with your right hand just because you have the law on your side in your left hand.

      It is illegal to restrict access to anyone who owns property up here. In any way. And that includes locking a gate and demanding payment for the unlock code. (The very DEFINITION of restricting access.)

      The judge told them they cannot take people’s property, nor can they restrict access with a gate, or a guard at the entry. The only recourse he gave them, was to put leins on people’s property.

      If no one paid, we would not lose the roads. That is fear mongering. The roads will remain and will one way or another be maintained.

      For instance, PUD is still going to need the roads and the bridge, not only for access to their hydro project, but so that they can maintain electric service to the residents up here. If they take over the bridge and the roads, they will maintain them. And they can no more legally restrict access to property owners, than MIRCC can. Residents, (including myself), would get together and do what we could, as well. Etc.

    • Greg

      Actually, the gate is owned by a different private resident from which the MIRCC requests codes. Technically speaking, it is not the MIRCC denying access, but in in fact the other private entity. The MIRCC is simply denying to help a delinquent resident get access to those codes. If an attempt was made to bring the MIRCC to court, the case would most likely be thrown out due to the counsel having no actual responsibility to provide codes in the first place.

      • Diana

        Actually, the gate is not owned by a private residence. It is adjacent to private property. MIRCC owns the roads which are private property, and all residents have the privilege of an Implied Easement to access their properties. This is clearly stated in the aforementioned court document. It is illegal to restrict access and landlock property owners who enjoy the easement.
        That being said, every single property owner SHOULD pay or be making payments on their assessments. Period. But the board cannot strong-arm or bully their fellow community members into doing so and it certainly doesn’t fall in line with their claims that their desire is for the community to work together. Not when they are running it as a dictatorship.

  • Jeff

    Who here has asked a lawyer, (counsel), to provide the codes?

    It doesn’t matter who the gate is owned by. It doesn’t matter whose property the gate is on. If that gate blocks the only access that landowners have to their properties, it is illegal to lock the gate, then demand that property owners pay for the unlock code.

    If a class action suit is filed, the actual gate owner and property owner would no doubt be included as defendants. (Something they may want to consider.) But MIRCC would certainly be a defendant as well. No matter how you word it, no matter how you try to twist it… MIRCC has made a decision to not give the gate codes to those who have not paid. It was a MIRCC decision. Outlined on their own website. In the minutes of their own official meeting. And they have made public statements to the fact, in several places. Not least of which is right here in this very news article.

    By the way, your argument is called a “straw man” argument. You set up a basis for the case, and then you toss the case out, because of that basis. Nevermind that the basis you set up had nothing to do with the reality a case will face in court… (It’s called a straw man argument because you set up a straw man as a target, then you knock it down.)

  • Greg

    You should retake that nighttime Logic 105 course you took, or at least demand your money back. A straw man would have required me to misrepresent YOUR argument and tear it down. The only basis a delinquent resident could stand on to bring a suit against the MIRCC would be if they could prove that access was being wrongfully withheld as a result of a miscalculation of dues owed. Other than that, this particular private resident has zero responsibility to you. If you honestly believe the MIRCC didn’t plan on this scenario and set up contingencies to overcome it, then I may have a bridge I could sell you as well.

    If you’re so confident that this is an open-and-shut case, I recommend you get a lawyer and stop trolling the local news comment section.

    • Diana

      MIRCC, is in fact, negligent in miscalculating the special assessments. These assessments are supposed to be calculated largely in part based on property value. All property values north of the slide decreased by 50% or more according to the Snohomish County Assessor. Mark Bollman has refused to even acknowledge a recalculation of these assessments. So while the board is crying for everyone to “pay their fair share”, some property owners (rightfully so) are demanding a fair calculation.

  • Jeff

    You did misrepresent the case and tear it down. And you have done so again.

    It’s very simple. By law, no one has the right to lock a gate and demand payment for entry, from lawful property owners. When that gate is blocking the only available access for those property owners. And by locking the gate, you are landlocking those properties.

    It doesn’t matter who is actually responsible. It doesn’t matter how much you change the wording. It doesn’t matter how much you try to change the focus. It doesn’t matter how much you try to make it sound like a ‘hopeless case’.

    If someone decides to file a case, they will not do so without basis. Confidence on either side will matter little. The court will decide, based on current law.

    You have no real argument, so you resort to insults, and marginalization. Troll? Where have I attacked or insulted anyone? This is a news story about a particular subject. I responded with an alternative take on the subject. That is the sort of thing that the comments section is intended for.

    • Steve

      Jeff, just to be clear to all that are reading this thread, access is not denied to anyone. One can walk around the gate and across the bridge just as they did through the mudslide that precipitated the need for this bridge. You just can’t drive a car through the private property where the gate is located. The land owner provided easement of vehicles through the gate to property owners in good standing (or making a good faith effort $50-$100 depending on debt owed) and their guests. Every gated community in the country has a gate code for paying members. This isn’t some sort of revolutionary war on property access. You can still access your property. Furthermore, the community has willingly established a donation fund for property owners like yourself that have a fixed income and are challenged to make their road payments. You are arguing legalities, but we know you are rationalizing the fact that you were delinquent in making payments and the community has been responsive to your situation and others like it. This isn’t about denying access and evicting people, this is about having enough money to have a passable road and to pay off the bridge we just borrowed money to build.

    • Greg

      You seem to be completely unaware of the connections between the MIRCC and the private residence, which I’m afraid to say is pretty key to understanding the case. The private residence is not charging any single person for an access code. They are acting in their completely legal authority to deny access to their own property. They do, however, cooperate with the MIRCC to choose which person gets a code. If you asked that property owner for a code and they agreed, then the MIRCC would more or less be shit out of luck in stopping you. Unless of course there was a contractual obligation between those two that would inhibit the private entity from allowing people that were unapproved by the MIRCC to get a code. But at the end of the day, the MIRCC isn’t technically charging you for access, and neither is the private entity. Honestly, you may not be able to find a lawyer that would even attempt to bring this to court.

      Anyone who doesn’t pay their dues should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. Contrary to what you may think, the roads need yearly maintenance that is very expensive when coming from private pockets. The roads will fail, just as they did last winter. What I’m curious to know is what makes you think When people refuse to pitch in, it makes solving any of these problems that much harder and time-consuming. Index is a community that can only survive if everyone works together, which is exactly what so many of us did to get by these few months. People selflessly gave free rides past the washout and did what they could to support each other. Instead of trying to find legal loopholes to cheap-skate your neighbors, why not try to improve the community? Fill in a pothole for once, or trim back the wild growth on the roads to make them safer. But at the very lest, pay your dues to help pay for the bridge that you plan to use.

    • Diana

      Jeff, as with the MIR Facebook page and the official website, attempting to reason with these people and make logical, informed, factual statements will get you nowhere. You are absolutely correct. In real estate law, concerning ingress and egress, the board is absolutely not in lawful compliance with restricting “best reasonable access” (driving, not walking) to property owners. MIRCC is not an HOA. The board is an LLC and as you mentioned, can only lawfully place liens on delinquent properties. They cannot landlock properties north of the slide. I certainly hope they didn’t waste too much money on the gate and code box because they’re going to need it for court.

  • Jeff

    Jon, to get access, there is a minimum payment of 50 dollars a month, if you only owe this year’s fees. There is another 50 dollar minimum if you are farther behind in your fees than just this year. For a total of 100 dollars a month. Without that minimum payment you will not be given the access code.

    As I have said before, if you use the roads, and the bridge, you should be paying for them. THAT… is also the law. And this minimum payment is not so much as to be onerous. I do hope you will consider beginning to make the minimum payments.

    Tearing down the gate will accomplish nothing except to cause more trouble.

  • Jana

    Uhh, Jon? Did you just put a threat in writing? You know what happened to the last guy who threatened to destroy property he didn’t own, don’t you?

  • Steve

    Diana,
    They SHOUD pay but don’t. A certain sector of the population will try to get away with having others pay their way as long as they can get away with it. It was interesting to note that as the gate to the new bridge became more of a reality, more and more historic free loaders in the community started to pay their road dues. In other words it wasn’t that they couldn’t pay, they chose not to since they could get away with it. They chose to forego that unnecessary month of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, lattes etc and went ahead and made their road payment. Those that spend a lot of time arguing whether they should have to pay according to the system and calling it a dictatorship obviously are hiding their own dereliction of responsibility. Your arguing about a few hundred dollars a year to have access to your property. Let’s get reasonable please.

    • Diana

      I love how you assume I am derelict in dues. I am not. I am being reasonable. I am expecting the MIRCC board to follow the letter of the law. I also reasonably expect a recalculation of fees for ALL UPSLIDERS due to the decrease in property value of those said properties. You know, since the bylaws state that assessments are based on property value. Stating that the board (and other community members) have a dictatorship method is not stated in intent to “hide” anything. It is simply stating fact; evidenced by a board member’s statement in the herald.net article where she said, “we’ve never had this kind of leverage before the new bridge”. The fact still remains, leverage or not, the board made the decision to landlock property owners who are behind in road dues from their properties. And make no mistake, it is illegal.

    • Diana

      Furthermore, if the board IS going to be so egregious as to impose such “leverage” in attempting to collect road fees, then they should do so across the board. Are there no property owners south of the slide who are behind in road fees? Because there IS an existing gate in the beginning of the riversites that, in years past, had a guard who would stop your vehicle and verify that you were a lot owner before you could enter. Are there any plans to lock that gate and distribute codes? No.
      Not to mention the FACT that MIR spent $57,000 to attempt to repair the section of the road where the slide occurred and no board member is willing to openly account for exactly how that money was spent. And paying “hoppy” to run his excavator isn’t the most professional method of best execution to maintain the roads in general.

      • Steve

        Diana,
        Sorry I made the assumption you didn’t pay. Thanks for paying. You also made some good points about the challenges associated with the special assessment calculations. At the time the assessment was made it was not known that the county would readjust taxes for the year. That came later. Should the board send half the money back based on a temporary change in property value? Now that the bridge is in the property values will return again to previous values I assume. Obviously, MIR needs all the money they can get since they borrowed for the bridge. If you’re a property owner above the slide it is in your own best interest to pay off the loan sooner than later to save on interest. If you are a property owner below the slide you are not rresponsible for the loan so don’t concern yourself. More importantly it seems based on your strong knowledge of the issues with MIR that that board of directors could use a member like you to be a part of the solution to all their problems. Your skills would be well suited to helping them more than just pointing out all the flaws in how they go about solving all this stuff. I hear the pay isn’t great, but at least you would have a chance to help stear the ship.

        • Diana

          Steve, I am well aware that property owners below the slide are not responsible parties in paying for the bridge. I was merely trying to point out that there are property owners south of the slide behind on road dues, not having anything to do with the bridge. The MIR board was granted (in the previously quoted court finding) the ability to set up a reserve fund for MIR; to have money sitting in an account accruing interest and working FOR the community. I’m sure a fund of that nature could help offset unexpected costs such as this landslide. And EVERYONE paying their fair share, whether above or below the slide, is absolutely crucial.
          As far as becoming a member of the board in the future, I would not have a problem with that. I do not reside permanently in MIR but am happy to travel and work towards viable solutions. The only problem, is that everything I have stated here, I have stated on the MIR facebook site and the official site, and my comments are blocked and deleted by the administrators. It seems that the board and the community don’t particularly like what it is I have to say. So while that’s a nice theory, the community makes it impossible and doesn’t want to seem to listen to reason.

          • Steve

            Hi Diana,
            I have not found the web based communication to be great with the board either. I think most of them avoid it because it provides cover for people to be very aggressive and rrude so they just son’t

          • Jim in Seattle

            The reserve was depleted by the MIR board having to file liens against excessively delinquent non-payers and starting the next step, legal confiscation of the property due to non-payment of the liens and back fees. Couple that with using the leftovers to try to keep the road open and the $$$ flew out the window with nothing to really show for it other than frustrated owners (including myself) and tons of mud to deal with along with the consequence of having to pay to cart it away.
            The board has a formula that Judge Wynn handed down that we have to go by in relation to the cost of the road maintenance divided by X amount of owners and their distance from the highway plus number of lots and the county property tax has already been cut due to affected values. If someone wishes to volunteer to pay for a return to court and the possible consequences in the change of costs, then it’s up to them. The current court ordered formula is what they have to go by.

            Most of the stuff removed were insult laden personal attacks, which has no purpose and provides no value except to the poster.

          • Diana

            Jim: the property tax value has decreased but the assessments were never recalculated to reflect that, so please don’t go there. Regarding the calculations, I am well aware of the formula. In fact, when we contacted the accounting firm who works for MIR to ask how our assessment was only ten dollars less (one lot, undeveloped) than our neighbor across the easement (three lots, one developed), Mark Bollman told the agency not to release any information to us. Pretty sketchy. Furthermore, to say that comments were removed due to insults and personal attacks is completely fabricated. I can’t speak for others, but the posts I left were all to do with everything I’ve said here. They were removed by administrators who couldn’t intelligently counter or answer any of the questions posed, and because they didn’t want anyone else to see it and start putting things together.

  • Steve

    Diana,
    They SHOULD pay but they don’t. A certain sector of the population will try to get away with having others pay their way as long as they can get away with it. It was interesting to note that as the gate to the new bridge became more of a reality, more and more historic free loaders in the community started to pay their road dues. In other words it wasn’t that they couldn’t pay, they chose not to since they could get away with it. They chose to forego that unnecessary month of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, lattes etc and went ahead and made their road payment. Those that spend a lot of time arguing whether they should have to pay according to the system and calling it a dictatorship obviously are hiding their own dereliction of responsibility. Your arguing about a few hundred dollars a year to have access to your property. Let’s get reasonable please.

  • Diana

    Steve,
    That sounds like a plausible “excuse” but the impression their silence and outright removal of comments would indicate that they don’t want the general public having access to the information being provided.