Manchester Mudslide: The Movie

On March 22, Manchester resident Jim Stritzel took on Kitsap County in a dispute over who’s responsible for a massive mudslide that began the evening of Nov. 21, 2006, and led to a landslide of lawsuits.

In a nutshell, the county is blaming Stritzel and holding him responsible for the county’s cost to clean up of tons of mud dumped on his downhill neighbors. Stritzel says the muddy mess is the county’s fault and can be directly linked to an illegally placed storm drain. Entered into the public record at the hearing was video footage of the mudslide taken by a county official.

The movie shows massive chunks of mud dropping 15 or so feet into a ravine and turning instantly to heavy brown sludge that rushes downhill. Compared to the run-of-the-mill stuff of public hearings, it was riveting. Here is the video, courtesy of Michael Barth, building official with the county’s Department of Community Development. (Click the link below to read the complete story.)

Who’s to Blame for Manchester Mess?

By Chris Henry,
March 23, 2007


Manchester resident Jim Stritzel has challenged a stop-work order and other requirements placed on him by the county as a result of a massive mudslide from his property that occurred Nov. 22 following record rains.

Stritzel and his attorney, Steve Dixon, testified Thursday before Kitsap County deputy hearing examiner Mark Hurdlebrink, arguing the mudslide was not his fault, but rather was triggered by runoff from a county storm drain above the site. Stritzel said he should not be required to fix the county’s mistake.

On the evening of Nov. 21, mud from Stritzel’s property, where he and his wife, Sharon, plan to build a home, began sliding downhill onto neighboring properties. By the next day, the mud flow had engulfed and destroyed neighbor Dan Trudeau’s chain-link fence and buried his backyard with 3-foot-deep brown soup. The slide also threatened other homes down slope.

County officials signed a declaration of emergency and sent in workers and equipment to remove the mud and protect the downhill homes. On Nov. 28, county building official Mike Barth put a stop-work order on Stritzel’s new home. He ordered that Stritzel stabilize the hillside, obtain a site development activity permit to resume work and get future work approved by a professional engineer.

The county is holding Stritzel responsible for the cost of emergency response to the slide, and, if he is unable to comply with the county’s conditions, he will be required to restore the site to its original condition, which would mean removing a foundation already built.

Trudeau, who testified at the hearing, said he believes the mudslide caused damage to his home that has not yet been fully assessed.

One thing Stritzel and county officials agree on is that record rains triggered the mud flow. By the night of the slide, more than 21 inches of rain had fallen that month.

Barth testified that the mud came from topsoil Stritzel had brought onto the site without county approval. Steve Abernathy, a public works engineering technician, testified that the nature of the soil suggested it had not originated on the property.

Dixon, speaking on behalf of Stritzel, said the soil in question had been dug out during grading of the foundation and stored in line with recommendations of a county official who had examined the site several days before the flow. Dixon questioned why a permit for construction of the home had been approved if county officials knew the property was in a swale and subject to landslides. He added that any material brought onto the site was gravel used to shore up the foundation.

Dixon asserted that the county is trying to make Stritzel a scapegoat for the failure of its storm drain, which, he said, was the primary cause of the mud flow. The drain is illegally placed, he said, because it deposits runoff onto private property.

Barth, citing a report from county geotechnical engineer Jeffery Arneberg, said the drain, which runs under Alaska Street and terminates off Spruce, “showed no signs of runoff.”

He said the storm drain appears to have been constructed in the 1960s, but an extension of the pipe, made of newer materials, seems to have been added later by someone other than county officials.

Stritzel said for him to comply with the county’s orders, he would have to extend the already “illegal” drain.

“Kitsap County can’t order me to commit an illegal act,” Stritzel said. “I have a duty to refuse.”

Stritzel said he has been frustrated by his dealings with the county since the mud flow. For example, he testified, he was thwarted in his attempts to obtain the county’s Manchester drainage design report, which, he said, shows his property is in a natural swale.

Stritzel recommends that the county divert the storm drain farther down Alder Street or down Madrone Street. His neighbor Blaine Wilson favors the Madrone Street diversion and says the county has an obligation to remedy the problem.

“None of the property owners suffering from this problem have granted an easement to the county to run storm water across their properties,” Wilson said.

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