Jefferson County commissioners approved a settlement offer with the owner of the Glendale Farm that would see the polluted property cleaned up in exchange for the suspension of nearly all of $264,500 …
Jefferson County commissioners approved a settlement offer with the owner of the Glendale Farm that would see the polluted property cleaned up in exchange for the suspension of nearly all of $264,500 in code violations.
The settlement agreement covers not only the historic farm in Chimacum, one of the largest and oldest in the county, but also acreage owned by Linda Sexton on Peat Plank Road.
Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement Monday.
Under the terms of the 19-page agreement, Sexton will pay the county $14,425 in eight installments of $1,803 over the next two years.
Sexton had been facing an accumulated $156,000 in daily fines for the Glendale Farm property, and $108,000 in daily fines for the Peat Plank Road property.
Before voting to approve the settlement, County Commissioner Kate Dean said the $14,425 settlement “would cover some of the county’s costs in enforcing the code.”
The county earlier estimated those costs for the two properties at $10,000, with the remaining $4,425 going toward retiring a fraction of the daily fines.
The agreement also shifts ownership of both properties to Sexton’s children, she said.
“The settlement provides for new ownership of the property, extensive clean-ups of both properties, and a partial payment of the fines accrued,” Dean said.
In exchange for the $14,425, the county will forgive
80 percent of the daily fines upfront, with the next 20 percent forgone after the property clean-ups are finished.
County officials noted the great progress that has been made in removing the piles of refuse on the Glendale Farm property since last year’s fire. Sexton’s children were praised for cleaning up the land.
Commissioners approved the settlement on a 3-0 vote following a closed-door executive session that lasted nearly three hours.
Dean asked her fellow commissioners to approve the agreement.
“I am thrilled to second that motion,” said County Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour.
“Very exciting,” added County Commissioner Greg Brotherton. “This has been a long time coming.”
Before the vote, however, Tom Thiersch, a local government watchdog, raised concerns that the settlement was not available for the public to review.
Thiersch said without seeing the numbers in the agreement, it was hard to see if the county had negotiated in the public’s interest.
“I understand you want to get this thing settled,” Thiersch said. “But as with most settlements, it seems that the county gets shortchanged. That you just sort of give in. And after a while, say, ‘Well, we got something.’
“That’s always disturbing to me. Because, when you get a citation from the State Patrol, you pay the citation. When you get a citation from almost any other entity, you pay the amount that’s due.
“Here we have fines that have accumulated to a substantial amount, and without having that piece of paper in front of me, I don’t know if the county’s getting, what percentage of that the county’s actually going to get. And that’s what’s disturbing to me,” Thiersch continued. “The fact that here you are, going to take action without having disclosed the terms ahead of time to anybody other than yourselves. That’s not exactly transparent.”
“Glad that it’s settled, but probably going to be unhappy about the total amount,” he added.
Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip C. Hunsucker, the county attorney who reviewed the settlement agreement, noted that the whole design of the county’s compliance code was geared to get violators to voluntarily comply with the rules.
“We’re using the code to its maximum to make sure that’s the case,” he said.
“It’s not like a traffic ticket where you issue a notice of violation and order of abatement,” Hunsucker said, adding, “It does trigger the running of daily fines.”
“But you have to collect them. You have to go to court and collect them. That’s a significant effort and cost to the county,” Hunsucker explained.
The settlement, he added, would also mean the transfer of ownership of the properties away from Sexton and into a trust managed by her adult children.
“That’s a big deal because she’s been the cause of significant hazardous waste violations at these properties and we want additional hazardous waste to stop going to those properties,” Hunsucker said. “And we couldn’t get that without this settlement.”
Hunsucker also noted the importance of the settlement, especially for the historic farm in Chimacum that already has a conservation agreement to keep it in agriculture.
“It’s a big deal,” he said.
Eisenhour said everyone should be proud of the work that went into getting the agreement completed.
“This is a really important step for the community at large,” she said.
The Glendale Farm, which has been a farm since 1857, is the largest site of hazardous waste in the county.
The land, at one time totaling
150 acres of prime soils and 23 acres of forest, had turned into a home for “massive amounts of solid waste.”
Three fires have been reported on the farm property since 2015, with garbage being a major factor.
After the most recent fire, in April 2022 when the main farmhouse fell to flames, local firefighters said solid waste on the property had burned for three days.
At the close of Monday’s discussion, Brotherton pointed to the long-term impacts from the settlement.
“Dollars and cents are not the only things at play here,” he said.
Still, the financial issue was substantial.
Brotherton noted it could have cost the county a lot of money to hire contractors to clean up the land. Instead, the Sexton family has done some of that hard work.
“It would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars to do what they’ve done so far,” he said.
“This feels like a real victory,” Brotherton added. “This is an unmitigated win, as far as I can see, for the county.”
Hunsucker echoed the sentiment.
“This was the No. 1 solid waste problem in the entire county and has been for a really long time,” he said. “You can drive by the property and see the difference.”
The settlement agreement includes a permanent court injunction that bars the new owners of the properties from bringing any solid waste, hazardous waste, or junk vehicles onto the Glendale Farm property.
Sexton is also named in a permanent injunction that prevents her from having any control of the owners of the farm property, or the activities and operations on the land.
Similar injunctions also apply to the Peat Plank Road property.
Sexton’s children were named as trustees; Seth Sexton, Soma Peterson, and Jeroma Sexton.
The settlement calls for the new property owners to continue removing all junk vehicles, solid waste, scrap metal, and household hazardous waste materials from the Glendale Farms property.
Sexton will be allowed to continue living at her home on Center Road “for the remainder of her lifetime,” according to the agreement, and will have an easement to the house.
The county has long pressed for clean-up actions at both the Glendale Farm and the Peat Plank Road property.
Seaton was ordered to get rid of the refuse at her Peat Plank Road property in January 2008.
After Seaton became owner of the Glendale Farms property in 2010, the Jefferson Land Trust — which had obtained a conservation easement to prevent its development in 2009 — raised concerns about 19 motor homes and 16 travel trailers on the farmland.
A county investigation soon followed, and fines of $500 a day were imposed on both the Glendale Farm and Peat Plank Road properties.
The county started a code compliance case on the Peat Plank Road acreage in January 2008 due to solid waste violations, and the enforcement action at Glendale Farm started in April after the fire last year.
Including its appendix, irrevocable declaration of trust to change property owners, and consent judgment for a settlement and permanent injunction, the settlement package totals 47 pages.
The settlement agreement also includes a provision that Sexton must abandon all of the public records requests she has filed with Jefferson County.
Sexton is also prohibited from making any additional requests for public records for the next three years.
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