Oregon Couple Faces Tsunami-Size Fine for Pool
UPDATED: with comments from one of the homeowners.
One Oregon couple determined to hold onto a pool that they built in protected wetlands faces an upstream battle against their town that could potentially wash away their bankroll.
A couple in West Linn, which several times has been rated one of the top 100 places to live by Money magazine, is staring at a tsunami-size fine for allegedly building a pool on their property (pictured above in a Google Maps image) without obtaining a permit, The Oregonian reports.
Troy and Gina Bundy, who were issued citations by the local police department last week, have been ordered to pay a retroactive fine dating back to November 2009, when the pool was built, for every day it remains in the wetlands area, the newspaper says. The fine is $1,000 a day, according to West Linn's assistant city manager, which means that the Bundys may be required to shell out close to $1 million for the violation.
The Bundys pleaded not guilty to prohibited use of a water resource -- in this case a protected ecological zone along a river -- and a court date is set for August, where Troy, who is an attorney, reportedly will represent himself.
"I'm going to fight every last minute, and I'm not going to give up until I'm old and gray," Troy Bundy said. "And if they want to steal my kid's college fund from me, they're going to have to pull it from my cold dead fingers."
Asked if West Linn's community development code seemed a bit harsh, Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said: "I don't think this is especially stringent, but it does reflect the fact that we value our resources."
"I'd almost wager it's standard across Oregon and across other Northwest communities," she added.
"No person shall be permitted to fill, strip, install pipe, undertake construction, or in any way alter an existing water resource area without first obtaining a permit to do so," reads the town's "Water Resource Area Protection" code.
Bundy doesn't dispute that his pool builders did this, but he does say that city officials previously approved the pool's construction. He also says that if he removes the pool without a consent agreement with the city or without receiving a court or city order, he may not sue the city for the cost of removing the pool. To date, West Linn has not officially ordered him to remove the pool or been open to any other consent agreement than one that requires him to pay the city for its legal costs and waive his right to sue it, he says.
Seeing as he has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $70,000 in attorneys fees and other expenses in an effort to resolve his predicament, he is not about to waive his right to sue for the cost of removing the pool, he says.
"The short story is they've never asked me to remove the pool," Bundy says. "I would have done it a long time ago ... but they never asked, so now they can't come back two and a half years later and say, well, you know, they're just going to fine me.' Fine me until what? I still can't take out the pool without a consent order or a court order."
Wyatt said the community seems mostly split over the issue. Comments on The Oregonian's website hint at the division, with some readers painting the fine as justified enforcement of important environmental codes and others decrying the town's actions as invasive and draconian.
"Two flagrant mistakes: They didn't get a permit although they admit to 'asking about it,' in other words, they knew about permits," wrote a reader identified as "aconcernedportlander." "Secondly, they dumped their leftover soil on a wetlands that was not their property. I sure would like to have some sympathy for these people but they did it to themselves. Now pay up."
The Bundys said they began construction after purportedly being told by the town's then-mayor, Patti Galle, to "go ahead and put in your pool" and being assured that they could obtain a permit later.
The couple also reportedly dumped fill from the pool on a wetland behind their home.
Another reader of The Oregonian isn't convinced that all this merits a mammoth fine.
"He's not trashing the property; he added a pool, hardly known as an eyesore, to anyone willing to engage in an honest conversation about the issues," wrote "metrosucks." "Check your government lickspittle manual to come up with a better argument for defending your local Cheka affiliate."
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