Thurston diverts $300,000 to save yet another illegal business that floods and pollutes

Monarch Sculpture Park

In 1996, Myrna Orsini bought a home on a five acre parcel near Tenino.  She turned her property into a retail art business, Monarch Sculpture Park.

Monarch features Orsini’s giant primitive “sculptures.”  Her business hosted a variety of public events.

She also planned to expand her business to include an art gallery, a restaurant, and other facilities that could host concerts and weddings.

Orsini never got any permits for her business–just like the illegal businesses that flooded out Timm Gunderson and his neighbors.

For nearly twenty years, the county turned a blind eye, in spite of strict laws about businesses operating in a critical habitat area, on a Deschutes River tributary.

Orsini repeatedly turned to county to help bail out her swamp

After fifteen years, Myrna Orsini appeared to question the wisdom of putting her art business in a remote swamp in south Thurston County.

On March 28, 2011, Orsini asked the county’s Board of Equalization to reduce her property taxes for Monarch.  She turned in a request, shown here, that stated her reason for the request:

This parcel is on a flood plane (sic).  It has a creek dividing it and a large pond.  Half of the land is marshy all year long. The creek periodically floods as does the Deschutes River. Not feasible to build here.

 

close up snip myrna's explanation may '11 assessor

To back up her statement, Orsini gave the following photos of Monarch Sculpture Park to the Board of Equalization:

trimmed monarch table and sign 4trimmed table monarch 1trimmed monarch flags 3trimmed monarch loopy thing 2

Where we see a swamp…the county saw their Woodinville fantasy come to life, on our dime

Around this same time, Myrna Orsini approached the County Commissioners to discuss “donating” her illegal business to the county.

Orsini retained legal counsel to work out the terms of her donation.

Click here to see the September 14, 2011 Commissioner Board Briefing,  followed by the summary of work done by county employees and managers over the spring and summer of 2011.

All this brainstorming for Monarch’s future, at taxpayer expense, was just a couple months after Orsini gave the county the above photos and description of the property.

In spite of the photos, the county had looked into further developing Orsini’s swamp into a country inn, a bed and breakfast, a cafe/restaurant, and/or an art gallery that could host wine tastings and other events–all courtesy of the taxpayers.

The county staff also looked into providing housing for sixteen artists-in-residence at Monarch.

Sixteen people living on a five-acre flooded swamp by the Deschutes River–with a Deschutes tributary cutting right through it.

A septic time bomb, especially for those downstream on the Deschutes River.

And the county staff came up with all these ideas shortly after Orsini told the Board of Equalization that Monarch was too marshy and flood-prone for any more building.

The county staff had even inspected the Monarch site themselves, before coming up with all their ideas for this swamp by the Deschutes.

A disturbing fact came out of all these studies was that Monarch Sculpture Park did not have safe drinking water.  Nor did Monarch have adequate sanitation or septic.

Not surprising for a flooded swamp–but a bit troubling for an illegal business open to the public, operating without permits or health inspections–and all of this inadequate sanitation and septic on a tributary of the Deschutes.

The county continued to let Monarch operate, in spite of all the risk to both people and the environment.

County has sought multiple resources to keep this illegal business open and operating

Page 2-25 of the county’s 2016-2021 Supplemental Capital Facilities Plan, shown here, states that the county is still working on accepting Monarch as a “donation.”

According to this document, the county is seeking grants, volunteer labor, donations, and other funding to keep Monarch open–without mentioning that it has never operated legally.

The county’s plan states that, if Monarch is not funded, “the Park may close to the public.”

From page 2-25 of the 2016-2021 Supplemental Capital Facilities Plan, about Monarch –

From page 2-25 of Thurston County's 2016-2021 Supplemental Capital Facilities Plan

Commissioners change county law in 2013 to benefit only Monarch, other requests denied

In 2013, Myrna Orsini asked the Commissioners to amend the Agritourism Ordinance to include “art tourism” as part of agri-tourism.  Monarch would receive the benefits of the ordinance, which was supposed to help the county’s recession-stressed farmers.

Nobody else requested the addition of art tourism.  However, other people asked that the ordinance be amended to include their businesses, too.

The Commissioners changed the law to include art tourism, as Orsini had requested.

No mention was made that, by this time, Monarch had apparently been operating illegally for seventeen years, with all the health and environmental risks.

The Commissioners denied the other citizen requests.

Emails showed that the county staff didn’t even know what “art tourism” meant.  They had to google a definition, to add it to the law.

Commissioners divert $300,000 from conservation program because Monarch was “in peril” of closing

In 2012, Monarch Sculpture Park applied for “Conservation Futures” funding.

The Conservation Futures program conserves some private lands each year that have valuable natural resources. The conserved land and/or resources are purchased with our property taxes, and managed by land trusts.

RCW 84.34 sets the guidelines and priorities. Our county’s annual Conservation Futures budget is about a million dollars.

Each year, an independent ranking committee evaluates and ranks applicants, giving numerical scores.  It’s a very involved process. Only a small percentage of applicants receive any funding.

The independent ranking committee was Monarch’s downfall.  They came in dead last of all the 2012 applicants.

Monarch tried again for Conservation Futures funding in 2013.

This time, they did a little better.  They came in next to last.

Monarch’s scores were still far, far behind the projects that received funding.

Myrna Orsini communicated her displeasure about the whole process to the Commissioners.

It hadn’t been enough that the Commissioners had changed a law to benefit only her.

Orsini warned them once again that she could be forced to close her never-legal business without a lot of taxpayer dollars to help her out.

The same business with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, an inadequate septic system, which was located on a swamp with a Deschutes River tributary running through it.

The same business that had operated for seventeen years without any permits that would entail things like the health department and inspections.  Things like environmental monitoring.

The Commissioners took Orsini’s warning very seriously.

They took $300,000 away from all the higher ranked conservation projects and promised it to Orsini–because never-legal Monarch was “in peril of closing.”

That was nearly one-third of the 2013 budget for Conservation Futures projects.

Ironically, that program’s money is supposed to help the environment.

Where Monarch stands now

Thurston County has yet to give the Conservation Futures money for Monarch.   It’s still promised, though.

And up until last summer, Monarch continued to bump along as always.

Over the years, Myrna Orsini made media announcements about Monarch opening and closing.   She would blame her closings on lack of money and help.  A 2014 fundraiser was held to help with Monarch’s maintenance and expenses.

Even with all these media announcements, the county never interfered with Monarch’s illegal and risky operations.  The Commissioners just kept showering Monarch with promises of taxpayer money and special favors.

On June 4, 2015, the Olympian published an article, “Monarch Sculpture Park near Tenino celebrates its survival.”

On June 19, 2015, I notified the county that Monarch was operating without permits, in violation of the law.  I referenced the Olympian article.

On July 15, 2015, Scott Clark addressed the County Commissioners about Monarch being reported for operating without permits.

Clark had recently resigned his position as  County Director of Resource Stewardship, which oversees county land use.

Clark discussed the unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation at Monarch.  He reminded the Commissioners that they had passed over higher ranked projects to award Monarch the $300,000 because they had believed the business was “in peril” of closing.

He then stated that he was giving Monarch 30 days to get their permits.  The same permits that can take other businesses years to get.

That 30 day deadline didn’t mean much.  The county has given Monarch other deadlines.  When the fateful day arrives, the county just grants another extension.

Monarch even advertised a big event on August 16.  That was after the 30 day deadline.   Orsini was apparently confident that the 30 day deadline was a sham, like all the other county “deadlines” sent her way.

The county expressed no plans to warn the public about the unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation at Monarch.

On July 17, 2015–two days after Scott Clark discussed Monarch at the Commissioner meeting–I emailed Sammy Berg, who heads up Thurston County’s Food and Environmental Services program.

I pointed out that other businesses with unsafe water and poor sanitation are shut down immediately by the county.

I asked if there would be signs to warn the public about health risks, like there are at beaches, when problems are found.

I asked what would happen if a child, or someone who was elderly or in poor health drank the unsafe water, and couldn’t fight off bad microorganisms.  Wouldn’t the county be liable?

My July 17, 2015 email to Sammy Berg, Thurston Co. Food and Environmental Health
My July 17, 2015 email to Sammy Berg, Thurston County Food and Environmental Health

 

On July 22–five days after my email to Sammy Berg–Monarch’s website stated that the business had been temporarily closed by the county.   The August 16 event was cancelled.

This minor setback did nothing to dampen the county’s enthusiasm for their Woodinville fantasy for this swamp by the Deschutes.

Two months later, Cliff Moore updated the Commissioners on Monarch.   At this time, the new plan was that they would have all their permits by December 31, and then the $300,000–diverted from conservation projects–would be handed over.

Cliff Moore’s statements about Monarch start at around the 2:10 minute mark on this video, and last about two and a half minutes –

Of course Monarch missed the December 31 deadline to magically come up with a plan to turn a flooded, polluting swamp into an exquisite Woodinville dream.

The county has granted extensions to Monarch.   Of course.

The $300,000 is still waiting for Monarch.

Still diverted away from valuable conservation projects, that would help the environment, rather than pollute it.

For our Commissioners and their staff, the Woodinville fantasy is still safely intact.  Nothing else really seems to matter.

And anyone who would be hurt by activities at Monarch, including those downstream on the Deschutes, can expect to receive the Gunderson treatment from the county.

Timm Gunderson receives the other side of justice

Back here on planet earth, SSG Timm Gunderson talks about why he joined the U.S. Army. Why he fought for the people of Iraq.

From Timm Gunderson:

I joined the Army following in the footsteps of my Father and both Grandfathers.
I joined to be a part of something bigger than myself and selflessly serve my country and the people that make up our Nation.
After 9/11 it became a fight to preserve our freedoms and values, to try to stop future attacks here on our homeland.
But it went further then that during my first tour in Iraq. Let alone I was defending our country, but I also served to liberate the oppressed people of Iraq. I have seen the joy on their faces first hand.
The army instills seven core values into every soldier: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.
I fought for Freedom, the Constitution, so every American can experience Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Timm Gunderson nearly lost his life in this fight.   He still suffers daily, as he will for the rest of his life.

The freedom and values for which Timm fought include equal justice.   Equal protection under the law.

That was all he has ever asked out of the county government.   For them to use their own laws to treat him and everyone else equally.

The county has scoffed at him.

Equal protection is more than a Constitutional right.

It is one of the freedoms that Timm fought for.

In asking the county to step in and stop the illegal behavior that damaged his property and hurt his family’s peaceful life, the laws are all on Timm’s side.

But the laws aren’t real if those in power won’t enforce them equally.  They’re just words in a book or on a computer screen, like any other.

Part Three of my series will includes videos by Timm Gunderson, that show why he is right, and the county is wrong.

Part Three will also show documents that prove that the county has lied about what is in their own files.

Click here to read part one, “Disabled Vet Faces Homelessness because Thurston County Protects Illegal Businesses.”  

Click here to read part 3, “County Lied About Laws that Would Have Saved Disabled Vet’s Home from Flooding.”

Click here to go to the facebook page, “Standing with SSG Gunderson.”

15 thoughts on “Thurston diverts $300,000 to save yet another illegal business that floods and pollutes”

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  4. That property has only flooded like that 3 or 4 times since I have been out in Rainier / Yelm area for the last 40 plus years. Long before homes were built there it was dairy land, the back part flooded alot. It is NOT the Waystations fault. his property is the lowest point, It’s going to flood. To make it a lawsuit with the county is just hogwash. From the first time that property flooded when a friend of my daughters moved there it should have been a complaint filed with the builder for building on a sit with potential for flooding. Perhaps the agency representing the sell of the property, and the builder should be held accountable they knew it flooded. I’m sorry he may lose his home, and I’m thankful for his service to our country, however it isn’t a county thing, or perhaps it is for letting a home be built there in the first place.

    1. KAS, first, your statements about the properties have already been contradicted by other property owners in the area. Since you are speaking as if you have personal knowledge of the properties, it would be helpful for you to use your real name. Second, the county’s laws make it clear that it is the county’s responsibility to document and monitor stormwater control on commercial property, like the site of the former Waystation Farm and Equine Medical. The laws requires a written drainage map and plan to be on file with the county. We have a plan on file with the county for our restaurant, and we are required to maintain our stormwater system in compliance with our documentation. Why should Sara Perkins not be required to abide by the same laws as other Thurston business
      owners?

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