Kristina Brandvold and her family live on a 6.5-acre country spread with evergreens, an orchard and plenty of room.
But Spokane County is trying to elbow in on them by taking part of their land for a large road project.
“This is our home,” Brandvold said. “We want to live here forever.”
Spokane County is seeking part of their land for a new interchange at Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads, part of a multiphase project through 2020 to widen both Bigelow Gulch and Forker from Havana Street on the west to Progress Road on the east.
On Tuesday, Spokane County commissioners are expected to vote to pursue condemnation against the Brandvold property and four other parcels at or near the intersection.
Brandvold and other residents said the amount the county is offering – $26,000 – is inadequate. A nearby resident said she was offered $3,900 for her land.
Both would end up looking at a raised roadway just outside their front yards.
The Brandvolds’ attorney, Bob Dunn, said, “The offers being made are about as ludicrous as I’ve seen in a long time.”
Across the length of the widening project, residents have been resisting the county’s efforts to buy pieces of their land.
Seven years ago, the county had its real estate acquisition shut down after complaints and investigations showed the county’s real estate agents had violated federal standards for acquisitions.
The findings stopped the project for years and put the county’s federal grant funds on hold. The county was forced to bring in independent consultants to act as agents, and those agents have been monitored by state officials.
To the west along Bigelow Gulch Road, members of the Prairie Protection Association sued, challenging the county’s environmental review, but lost the case on appeal.
County officials have been pursuing the project since 2000 to ease the heavy traffic and large number of accidents, including fatalities, along the route. From 2004 through 2014, the route saw 390 collisions, including 128 injury accidents. From 1994 through 2006, there were seven fatalities.
The route is rated at an “E” level of service out of a scale from A to F, with F being the lowest.
Traffic volumes at Forker Road run about 10,000 vehicles a day, including a large number of commercial trucks moving between north Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Forker Road runs north from the Spokane Valley floor in a ravine that carries a perennial creek. It intersects with Bigelow Gulch Road on a blind curve, and there are hills in three directions.
The county’s proposed solution is to build an overpass with two through lanes in each direction from Forker to Bigelow Gulch. An underpass would serve vehicles wanting to turn.
The extra two lanes are needed to accommodate slow-moving vehicles, especially commercial trucks, said Chad Coles, assistant county engineer.
Stormwater from the road would go into infiltration ponds at the interchange. The county would also reroute natural drainage through a 54-inch culvert into a ditch that extends to the Brandvold property.
Brandvold said she is concerned the excavation will lead to contamination of her well because of the possibility it could cause septic effluent to mingle with drinking water.
Dunn said the county’s offer fails to account for damage done to the whole property beyond the project’s need for a portion of the Brandvold property. He said water rights may be impacted as well.
Brandvold said she and her husband have not decided whether to allow the condemnation to go to court for a settlement. But if the couple does choose to go to court, Dunn said, there is a chance they could win a much larger settlement than the amount being offered by the county.
Coles said the county has a responsibility to be judicious with taxpayer money. The purchase offers are based on an independent appraisal, he said.
Residents of the area said the comparable properties used to establish the appraised values were much less valuable.
Coles said if the Brandvolds and their attorney can show why a larger settlement is fairer, then the county will consider it.
“We want to come to a negotiated settlement,” he said.
Also, Coles said, “If we do impact (the property) with our activities, we have to mitigate that.”
Richard Edelen, who lives along Forker Road, said, “I don’t know why they would ruin a natural drainage.”
Highway 25 bridge to single lane
Elsewhere, the Washington state Transportation Department said it is installing a single-lane traffic control on the state Highway 25 bridge over the Columbia River at Northport.
It will allow single-lane alternating traffic on the 1,500-foot span near the Canadian border.
A restriction for the bridge was put in place last week, allowing only one truck at a time. That has been lifted. However, all loads must meet weight restrictions. No overweight or oversize loads are allowed.
“An in-depth review and assessment in December indicated that heavy rust has penetrated large bolts that provide the connection of the steel trusses to the piers at the north and south ends of the span and weight restrictions would be needed,” according to a news release from the DOT.
Extra crews clearing snowdrifts on roads
The Spokane County road department had to send extra crews into the southern portion of the county last week to clear drifts that formed during a New Year’s snowstorm and closed at least two roads.
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