August 5, 2012 in Region

Mom out of ideas to save home

River that claimed son, 8, eroding yard
Kyle Spurr (Centralia, Wash.) Chronicle

CURTIS, Wash. – On quiet nights, Michelle Matchett can hear chunks of riverbank crumble into the Chehalis River behind her house on Ceres Hill Road.

Matchett, who moved into her house four years ago, listens to the soil give way and worries about her home, which is now just 25 feet from a steep cliff that acts as the border between her property and the river.

“I just know it’s going to go eventually,” Matchett said of her riverfront home.

As the dirt splashes straight into the river, the noise reminds Matchett of the growing danger of erosion that some say contributed to her 8-year-old son Nicky Matchett’s drowning death three months ago.

Nicky was last seen on May 4, swinging on the back deck of the house, when his mother went inside for no more than five minutes, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. He is believed to have fallen off the edge of the yard and into the river.

“I would have had a fence up if I knew,” Matchett said. “But it’s a little bit too late. I just wish I could have changed something.”

No one is in charge

Like many other people living along rivers in Lewis County, Matchett, 44, is at a loss for answers from local, state and federal agencies on how to halt the winding river from eroding her property.

Matchett, who lives with her 12-year-old daughter and a family friend, said she has contacted local fisheries, the governor’s office, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and she even wrote a letter to President Barack Obama.

Each answer Matchett receives is the same.

Nobody is in charge, no grants are available, and the cost is too high for projects, which have no guarantee of succeeding.

“There may not be a single state or federal agency that is the lead for this issue,” said Washington State Department of Ecology spokesperson Curt Hart.

Although no agency is in charge of river erosion in Lewis County, local and state departments are working independently on the issue.

Scott Brummer, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional biologist for Lewis County, said he makes nearly 100 personal trips to erosion sites around the county each year, including many to private homes.

Brummer said private homeowners must be serious about getting the right permits, and have the money to stabilize their land.

Brummer said the biggest issue for people is finding the money to pay for the bank stabilization work, since it is difficult to collect public money for private land.

A nearby example

Brummer is working with the Lewis County Public Works Department on a bank stabilization project on the Ceres Hill Road Bridge, less than a half mile from Matchett’s home, to protect the public roadway from erosion.

Construction around the bridge began this week to add 235 feet of riprap rock and three rock barbs to the riverbank. The project aims to redirect the water and protect the land around Ceres Hill Road.

Ann Weckback, of Lewis County Public Works, said the project will cost about $100,000.

Brummer and the county public works department are also planning erosion projects on the Newaukum River. For each project, Brummer said, they have to be careful that fixing one spot won’t shift the problem downstream.

The Chehalis River and the Newaukum River have seen significant land loss from floods, Brummer said.

Along with the county public works department and state fish and wildlife, the Lewis County Conservation District is discussing options for curbing erosion in the county.

‘Very frustrating’

Back on Ceres Hill Road, Matchett said erosion was a problem long before her son died.

“I didn’t think this was happening,” Matchett said. “We had to redo the grass and ground from the (2007) flood. Then all of a sudden it just started escalating.”

Matchett, a Lewis County resident for nearly 20 years, said she can’t afford the steep price of stabilizing her property.

“I went online to find a grant,” Matchett said, “but there is nothing for a regular person. It’s very frustrating.”

Faced with eventually losing her home, Matchett said she would live in a motor home on Ceres Hill Road if it meant she could stay close to her neighbors and family.

“All my memories are in my house with my son. I don’t want it to fall into the river,” Matchett said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email