Growing Pains: Conflict Between Winlock Residents and Community Development Over New Subdivision

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When Chad Ruben and his wife purchased their property in Winlock’s urban growth area 11 years ago, they were expecting to settle into a quiet retirement.

The construction vehicles that arrived in August, driving past their property at 6:30 a.m. most days, changed that.

But it’s not the construction vehicles themselves that are causing Ruben and his neighbors concern: It’s the 40-home subdivision the construction crews are building in the neighborhood.

Meyers Meadows is being built on a 7.36 acre plot just north of state Route 505 and east of Kakela Road. When finished, it will be home to 40 new houses with paved roads, rolled curbs, gutters, sidewalks, a stormwater pond, streetlights and a park to serve the new residents.

Winlock is undergoing major growth, with a recently-completed Lowe’s distribution facility in Benaroya Industrial Park and others drawing in workers. Housing developments like Meyers Meadows attract families as local services expand to keep up.

And while many officials and economists view the growth as a positive for the Lewis County community, it's creating problems for longtime Winlock residents like Ruben.

Ruben’s primary concern with the Meyers Meadows development is an elevation grade change that is causing the construction area to drain onto his property, where he maintains a small apple orchard and puts his horses out to pasture.

“I have standing water in this part of my field for the first time in 11 years. Now imagine all the contaminants that can come from houses,” said Ruben in a Nov. 8 Facebook post. “As it stands right now, all of those things from this part of the housing complex will run through my field where my horses eat. Then to my blackberries and apple trees that we eat from.”

During recent heavy rain, Ruben witnessed muddy water flowing through his pasture, down Kakela Avenue and into the Olequa Creek.

“This is proof as to how far contaminants from this job can actually travel,” Ruben wrote in a Nov. 11 Facebook post.

The Department of Ecology got involved, and hay bales were stacked around the construction site to filter the mud out of the water before it flowed into the creek.

The rain also showcased a problem for another of Meyers Meadows’ neighbors, Jeremy Cloud, who uses a shared underground well on the fence line of his property as his primary source of water.

As part of the Meyers Meadows construction, a retaining pond was put in above Cloud’s well, and Cloud is concerned contaminates from the subdivision will seep through the soil and contaminate the well water.

“My concern all along was there are going to be issues with contaminants from the houses and the cars that drive down the streets,” said Cloud.

If the well fails a quality inspection, Cloud said he would be required to move onto the city’s water and sewer.

“Our family can't afford another utility like this,” he said.

Both Cloud and Ruben said they don’t have a problem with the subdivision going in or with Winlock’s ongoing expansion, as long as they can continue living as they have been.

“We just want it to be done right and we want the impact on both of our properties to be as minimal as possible,” Cloud said.

Both Cloud and Ruben have relayed their concerns about the project to the City of Winlock, which Cloud says has been responsive.

“The City of Winlock, they’ve responded the way you hope a municipality would respond,” Cloud said.

That said, both Cloud and Ruben said the city hasn’t been communicative about the project. Impacted residents received a one-paragraph public notice in May stating that the project was underway and that there would be a public hearing, but they didn’t hear anything else about the project until construction vehicles showed up in August.

The developer has been through the public hearing process for early public grading and utilities, which is what’s being built now, according to Winlock Community Development Director Robert Webster.

When asked by a reporter over the phone how the City of Winlock is addressing complaints about the project, Webster said: “That's where people need to do their due diligence and actually know what they're talking about before they just start complaining to the newspaper and other places.”

He recommended people look into the project’s background before complaining, and the project’s application and permit documents are available online through the Department of Ecology’s website at at apps.ecology.wa.gov/paris/FacilitySummary.aspx?FacilityId=97612.

While Cloud and Ruben said Webster alleviated their concerns — telling Cloud a sealed well head would protect his well and telling Ruben the construction will include a stormwater system capable of handling the runoff from the subdivision — Webster told The Chronicle both neighbors were in the wrong regarding their concerns.

He added that residents will have to “come to terms with what’s actually wrote down” in Winlock’s city code, “like where they’re supposed to get rid of their well when city water and sewer becomes available, which most people don’t know I guess because nobody actually does their job and look into things like that, or how they’re supposed to put stormwater and storm drains in.”

“... Everybody’s going to complain and that’s fine. I’ve got my ducks covered and I’m good to go, so they can say what they want, do what they want, write what they want, but I’m in the right and that’s all that matters,” he said.

Webster then abruptly ended the call with the Chronicle reporter.

The grading and utilities work for Meyers Meadows is expected to be completed in June 2022, and a timeline for the remaining construction is not yet available.

 

 

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