NEAR LAKE STEVENS, Wash. - Washington State Fish and Wildlife officials have rules they can use to protect a river from property owners using boulders to fortify banks. The boulders will stabilize banks and protect property but when improperly installed, biologists say, the big rocks can harm fish by taking away their natural hiding places.
But if the homeowners won't or can't afford to get a permit to properly reinforce banks, there is little that can be done to keep a home out of the river. That's what happened last week near Lake Stevens when the swollen Pilchuck River eroded the bank under the Bess family home.
"It's all gone now," said Catherine Bess as she watched her home fall into the Pilchuck.
She and other family members said they tried to install rock to protect the eroding riverbank years but go but were warned not to do it by State Fish and Wildlife workers.
"We didn't deny the Bess's a permit. They didn't apply for one so we didn't have anything to deny," said Fish & Wildlife Regional Director Bob Everitt.
Everitt said they met with the Bess's and advised them of what they could and couldn't do, and waited for a permit request. It never came. The Bess's said they couldn't afford the costs for inspections and reports to get the permits ran well into the thousands. The last April Snohomish County inspectors said the river had eroded its way too close and posted the Bess's home 'Unsafe."
Since then, it has been a slow and painful demise for the home that once sat several hundred feet from the river's edge. Last week, the Pilchuck, raised to flood stage by recent storms, finally took the home. Now the state and county must find away to safely remove the debris of the home from the river and the Bess's have to find a new place to live out their days.
There are plenty of rules to protect the river from illegal efforts to reinforce its banks but it seems there is no mechanism for government officials to use to prevent a home that can't be saved from falling into the river.