takes on county: Chuck Pillon believes logs,
debris in river can become death
By Dean A. Radford
For years, May Valley activist Chuck Pillon has railed against the placing of big logs and root wads in rivers to provide fish habitat and to secure banks because they can become death traps.
Last week, he did something about it.
He and a helper removed big chunks of large woody debris from a bend in the Cedar River just east of Renton — a popular swimming hole where, he said, swimmers have nearly drowned.
He left the logs and root wads on the side of the Cedar River Trail with a warning of the dangers he says remain in the river.
He did the work illegally, without benefit of permits required by all levels of government for work in rivers. He violated the county's regulations regarding critical areas and shorelines.
His work — which he says may continue — could cost him thousands of dollars in civil fines and King County is considering whether to file criminal charges against him.
It's what he expected and what he wants. He's trying to get the county's attention.
"These are palpable death traps," he said of such debris placed purposefully in rivers and those that occur naturally as riverbanks give way.
Pillon is no stranger to confrontations with the county. In 2001, he illegally dredged part of May Creek east of Renton to ease flooding. As a result, he has a $33,000 lien against his property. The county also cited him for operating in essence an unpermitted recycling operation on his property.
The logs he chose to remove last week are part of a roughly $100,000 county project to deflect the force of the Cedar River from the trail and State Route 169, easing the threat of erosion.
Now the county is looking at how it will repair the damage — at even more public cost. First, it will have to get permits to do the work.
The damage also could have implications for the county's efforts to help endangered salmon recover under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The county's Department of Development and Environmental Services, is investigating the illegal work and will discuss possible enforcement with the county's Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Pam Bissonnette, director of the county's Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said the county is always concerned about public safety on the rivers.
For years, a safety advisory committee has reviewed these projects as part of the environmental review, with an eye toward how they might threaten swimmers and boaters.
She said if anyone had complained about the logs Pillon removed, the county would have investigated to determine if the public's safety was at risk.
That is what happened on the Snoqualmie River near North Bend earlier this summer in an area of one drowning — not caused by logs — and near drownings.
The county removed a natural log jam near what's known as the Blue Hole, a popular swimming area, after the urging of nearby residents. But there was plenty of debate before the work was done, according to one resident.
"What needs to happen is that common sense needs to prevail," said Alexis Kaplan, who lives on the river.
If the danger is great and there's no way to remove a log jam, then the county sheriff has the authority to close a stretch of river, as was done this summer on the Snoqualmie.
What swimmers and boaters need to remember is that rivers are "inherently dangerous," said Jon Fallstrom, deputy fire chief for Fire District 10, whose service area includes parts of the Snoqualmie River.
Log jams not only pose a threat to those they ensnare but also to those sent to rescue them, according to Enumclaw Fire Chief Joseph Kolisch, who also runs a swift-water rescue team on the Green and White rivers.
"When they started putting the debris in the river, my people just about had heart attacks," he said. "Mother Nature gives us enough problems with our rivers without adding to it."
Dean Radford can be reached at dean.radford@
July 31. 2006 12:00AM