County lied about laws that would have saved disabled vet’s home from flooding

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This is Part Three of my series, “Standing with SSG Gunderson.”  

Click here to read Part One, “Disabled vet faces homelessness because Thurston County protects illegal businesses.”
Click here to read Part Two, “Thurston diverts $300,000 to save yet another illegal business that floods and pollutes.”
Click here to go to the facebook page, “Standing with SSG Gunderson.”

It has been nearly six months since disabled combat vet SSG Timm Gunderson first contacted Thurston County about health risks to his family, and damage to his home and property.

SSG Timm Gunderson
SSG Timm Gunderson

His home had become surrounded by polluted flooding.  His family was faced with homelessness. They were losing their running water, their septic system, and their propane–their sole source of heat and cooking.

Other neighbors were flooded, as well.

Gunderson and I have both had multiple  communications with county officials since then about his family’s crisis.

The flooding was apparently caused by his neighbor Sara Perkins diverting water flow off her property, which kept her her two illegal luxury horse businesses dry.

SSG Gunderson states that Perkins told him that she had blocked up the water flow on her property to protect her horse businesses.

SSG Gunderson is on a fixed income, after becoming 100% disabled from a suicide bomber attack on New Years Eve 2003.

His fixed income wasn’t enough to pay the mortgage and rent another place at the same time.

Gunderson still has stagnant water on his property from last winter’s flooding, where his property is normally dry in the summer.

He is afraid for what will happen this coming fall, when the rains return.

After four months of receiving emails and evidence from both SSG Gunderson and me, the county finally shut down the two illegal businesses.

But that didn’t help Timm Gunderson, his family, and his neighbors. They still needed the blockage removed.

County officials “brainstorm” to help the Gunderson family with ridiculous suggestions

The County Commissioners “brainstormed” to come up with ideas for SSG Timm Gunderson and his family.

The result of all their brainstorming was to refer the family to homeless services.

Other county officials offered similarly helpful advice for Gunderson’s family.  They suggested putting a port-a-potty on their flooded property to replace their septic.

The county officials advised that the teenage daughter didn’t really need to shower before going to school.  They also thought that the family didn’t need clean water for washing clothes and dishes.

And since the propane company couldn’t get through the flood to refill their tank in the dead of winter, the county suggested that Gunderson get a small portable tank and run a propane hose through the flooded water to heat their house.

An interesting idea.  Also highly dangerous and probably illegal.

But with all this helpful advice over the last six months, the county officials repeatedly stated that they were powerless to do anything about the apparent blockages on Perkins’ property that were causing the flooding.

County Manager lied about his lack of authority to investigate and fix flooding cause

From the top down, Thurston County managers have insisted that there are no county codes that covered these kinds of emergencies, if the blockage was on private property.

That was a flat out lie.

It’s also a violation of both a state law and a county law, by the county officials who kept repeating the lie.

Breaking the state law, RCW 9A.76.020, is a gross misdemeanor, which can bring 364 days in jail.  Breaking the county law, TCC 26.05.020 is a misdemeanor, which can bring 90 days in jail.

But that doesn’t stop county officials from breaking them. They pretty well know that they will never be punished.

Cliff Moore
Cliff Moore

Former Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore spun the first big yarn about the county not having any authority to remove the blockage that was causing the flooding.

Moore kept spinning the yarn for months, until he left to become Yakima City Manager in May.

Before leaving for Yakima, Cliff Moore sent disturbing and sarcastic email messages to Timm Gunderson, in response to Gunderson’s pleas to the county to use their own laws to save his home.

So was Cliff Moore intentionally lying about the county laws?  Or was he just ignorant and incompetent?

We can’t know for sure, without either administering a truth serum or finding buried evidence.

But we can speculate as to whether Moore would have been in a position to know the laws.

Before becoming Thurston County Manager, Cliff Moore was Director of Thurston County’s Resource Stewardship Department.

Which meant that Moore was in charge of the program that was responsible for all of this.

Multiple laws that would have protected the Gunderson home, and their neighbors

Thurston County has multiple laws and policies that allow their staff to investigate and fix the source of this kind of flooding and pollution–no matter where it is located.

One law even allows county officials to go beyond their usual authority, if a blockage could result in public health risks or property damage.  Like in this case.

The county can also require the offending property owner to pay for the work.

The county just didn’t use their own authority.

Instead, for the last six months, top county officials have insisted that these laws and policies simply don’t exist.

Even though they are available online.

Thurston County Code 15.05.010-15.05.030:

TCC 15.05.010 states that the “2009 Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual” is the county’s law. 

Section 3.6 of this Manual says the county has easements around man made and natural waterways on private property, that allow county staff to access, inspect, and repair any impediments to water flow and water quality.

Section 3.6, 2009 Thurston County Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual
Section 3.6, 2009 Thurston County Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual


The county can legally take action even beyond what is specified in their regulations, if it is necessary to protect public health and safety, to prevent flooding that could be a risk to people and property, and to protect water quality.

From introduction to 2009 Thurston County Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual
From introduction to 2009 Thurston County Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual

TCC 15.05.020(A) states:

It is imperative that regulations set forth in the manual regarding drainage and erosion standards be properly enforced.
The purpose of this section is remedial.  The remedies of this section are not intended to be exclusive.
The Thurston County department of water and waste management (“department”) and the county retain the discretion to seek any other remedy or enforcement provided at law or equity, including the remedy of seeking injunctive relief.
The use of the civil infraction remedy will better protect the public from the harmful effects of violations, will aid enforcement, and will help reimburse the county for the expenses of enforcement.
The department shall adopt policies and procedures for enforcement under this section, including policies providing guidance on when to issue civil infraction notices and criteria for determining the class of infraction that should be issued.

TCC 15.05.030 states:

County to act in emergency—Property owner to compensate.
To the extent allowed by law and/or pursuant to agreement with property owners, Thurston County, acting through the water resources program manager, shall have the following authority:
A. In cases where immediate action is required to solve an erosion or drainage problem, the county may perform the necessary construction or remedial work and bill the property owner, the property owners’ association or proponent for all costs.
B.  The county may remove, correct, or replace improperly constructed storm drainage or erosion control systems that it has previously reviewed and approved under Section 15.05.010 of this chapter and bill the property owner, the property owners’ association or proponent for all costs.
C.  The property owner, property owners’ association and proponent are jointly and severally liable for costs incurred in any remedial action performed by the county under this chapter. The county may record a lien on the property owned by such jointly and severally liable entities for payment of costs plus reasonable attorney’s fees. Interest shall accrue on costs at the same rate as for real estate tax delinquencies and shall commence on the date of completion of remedial action.
D.  The county assumes no liability for performing any action under this section.

Crocodile tears from county’s top brass

In other words–all the phony concern and sympathy expressed by the county to Timm Gunderson, his family, and his neighbors was nothing but a bunch of crocodile tears.

And when given the choice of whether to protect some fancy horses, or protect the home of an American hero who had sacrificed so much for them–they chose the fancy horses.  Hands down.

Even though them making that choice caused them to break a bunch of their own laws.

But they apparently didn’t care.  They didn’t have to care.  Nothing bad happens to them, no matter what they do.

SSG Timm Gunderson
SSG Timm Gunderson

They are apparently bulletproof.  Unlike SSG Gunderson on that fateful 2003 day in Bahgdad, when he nearly paid the ultimate price.

Timm Gunderson was interviewed by Todd Herman on his July 25 radio show on KTTH, Seattle.

Timm shared his thoughts on how his county government treated his family like subjects, rather than treating them like their employers.

He explained how, in contrast, he saw his job as a soldier-

As a soldier, I walk around saying Sir and Ma’am to everybody, because every civilian is my freaking boss.

And I treat them with the utmost respect because I serve them. 

They don’t serve me.  I serve them.

Part Four of my series “Standing with SSG Gunderson” will feature Timm Gunderson’s months of research, along with two videos made by Gunderson on July 16, where he walks along and explains his research into the water courses in his neighborhood.   
Part Four will also feature a detailed email Gunderson sent to state and local officials on July 18, explaining the county’s mistakes and failures.   Photos and maps will be included.
This upcoming article will be critical for all south Thurston County residents.  Timm’s research will show you that we are all vulnerable to the same dangers and shocking treatment that he and his family received from the county government–and the lack of accountability that puts us all at terrible risk.

Feature image of Timm Gunderson, from his July 16, 2016 video.

Click here to read Part One, “Disabled vet faces homelessness because Thurston County protects illegal businesses.”
Click here to read Part Two, “Thurston diverts $300,000 to save yet another illegal business that floods and pollutes.”
Click here to go to the facebook page, “Standing with SSG Gunderson.”



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