PLF client Vicki Luhrs wins the right to save her home from erosion
Bellevue, WA; March 29, 2011: Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) announced today that Vicki Luhrs, who owns a bluff top home on Lummi Island, has finally been allowed by Whatcom County officials to build a revetment to protect her property from erosion – and the revetment has now been completely installed.
“The completion of Vicki Luhrs’ revetment is a victory for her property rights – and for the principle that all homeowners should be free to take commonsense steps to safeguard their homes and their land,” said Brian T. Hodges, managing attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation’s office in Bellevue, Wash. Hodges represented Luhrs through several levels of appeal in fighting the County’s prohibition against shoreline protection. “But the fact that she had to fight for a decade to vindicate her rights as a homeowner and property owner is a sad commentary on the extremism and obstinance of some government officials.”
A dream home – and a bureaucratic nightmare
Luhrs bought the land, on a bluff facing Hale Passage, North of Puget Sound, in 1992. It included a quaint 1925 home and she saw it as her dream retirement property. She secured all of the necessary permits to update the home – but it soon became apparent that rapid and violent shoreline erosion threatened the property.
This was the beginning of what has turned into a years-long battle to save her dream home from ravages of the sea – and the stubbornness of government bureaucrats.
The Army Corps of Engineers and expert geologists determined that the shoreline in front of Luhrs’ home suffers from accelerated and violent erosion and nothing less than a rock revetment will protect her property from this risk. But Whatcom County would not allow property located on an erosional bluff to be protected – under any circumstances – from damage or loss as a result of shoreline erosion. Instead of allowing her to build shoreline armoring, county officials said she must use inadequate soft, bio-engineered methods such as planting grasses along the sheer bank.
After battling the county at the administrative level, Luhrs filed suit in Washington state court in 2008, represented, free of charge, by Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys. Donor-supported PLF is the leading legal watchdog that litigates, pro bono, for limited government and property rights, in courts nationwide.
A trial court sided with Whatcom County – without allowing her to introduce factual evidence of the need for a rock revetment. But in 2009 the Washington Court of Appeals ordered that Victoria Luhrs be allowed to go back to trial court and demonstrate her contention that she needs a rock revetment to protect her home.
On remand, PLF teamed up with former PLF attorneys from the Bellevue, Washington, law firm, Groen, Stephens & Klinge LLP, and successfully convinced the County to give up its battle to block Vicki from protecting her home. This year, the County issued Vicki a permit to build the revetment that she asked for a half-decade ago – and the revetment has now been entirely installed.
Whatcom County vs. the Washington Constitution
“This case was about property rights, common sense – and the rule of law,” said Hodges. “By fighting a property owner who wanted to protect her land from erosion, Whatcom County officials were also fighting against the Washington State Constitution. The state constitution guarantees all landowners have the fundamental right to protect and defend their property from destructive natural forces.
“Also, a state law specifically gives coastal landowners the right to protect their homes from erosion,” Hodges continued. “But Whatcom County made up its own rules, prohibiting outright any hard armor on an erosional bluff like Vicki’s. In doing so, the county was turning the law on its head, deciding to protect natural disasters rather than its citizens.
“The county was also showing a hard heart,” Hodges said. “In fact, when asked by a judge whether Vicki might just have to watch her house go down the bluff, the county attorney callously answered, ‘That does happen, yes.’
“The county’s stance was quite simply illegal and inhumane – and we’re glad that the county finally relented, even though it took years of litigation to produce that result.”
“PLF’s help was invaluable in helping me get to this day and this vindication of my rights as a property owners,” said Vicki Luhrs. “I’m so grateful that PLF stepped forward to fight for me, and to stand up to the government. I also want to thank the PLF donors who make it possible for PLF attorneys to help people like me, who are victims of abusive regulations and bureaucrats.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation and its Pacific Northwest Office
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog that litigates, pro bono, for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide. PLF’s Pacific Northwest Office is located in Bellevue, Washington.
PROTECTION FOR PRIVATE PROPERTY
Protection of single family residences
(6) Each master program shall contain standards governing the protection of single family residences and appurtenant structures against damage or loss due to shoreline erosion. The standards shall govern the issuance of substantial development permits for shoreline protection, including structural methods such as construction of bulkheads, and nonstructural methods of protection. The standards shall provide for methods which achieve effective and timely protection against loss or damage to single family residences and appurtenant structures due to shoreline erosion. The standards shall provide a preference for permit issuance for measures to protect single family residences occupied prior to January 1, 1992, where the proposed measure is designed to minimize harm to the shoreline natural environment.
If this is the LAW?
WHY DID VICKI have to fight for a decade to vindicate her rights as a homeowner and property owner?
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