SK developer lands in hot water

The good news is, the old Maria’s Taco Shop site on Bay Street is finally getting an overhaul in preparation for a new restaurant tenant.

The bad news is, the Kitsap County Health Department, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the City of Port Orchard are all working overtime to get the property owner, Joe Mentor, to clean up the mess he made during construction.

The highlights: countless cubic feet of riprap dumped into nearby Ross Creek, a permit-less deck and a creative latrine alternative set up right next to the site’s wellhead.

In addition, “he’s been scrubbing out the inside and washing it out the door,” said city code enforcement officer Kathy Woodside.

Ross Creek is a Class 1 salmon stream, which means nearby construction and other activities fall under the most stringent standards Fish and Wildlife has. Any work falling within 200 feet of the creek banks must first be approved by Fish and Wildlife officials – something that Mentor apparently failed to do.

“There was no permits obtained,” Woodside said.

Woodside got a phone call the morning of Jan. 13 from area habitat biologist Randi Thurston, a local Fish and Wildlife representative. Thurston said she saw construction on the restaurant underway when she drove to work that morning, and wondered what was going on. She also said she saw what looked like large piles of rock pouring over the creek bank in several places.

When Thurston and Woodside visited the site the following day, they found fresh-poured concrete for a new patio, signs of improvement on the deck which overlooks the creek and piles of rock sitting partially in the water. They also found something Thurston has not seen while driving by – a wooden chair with the bottom torn out of it resting up against the wall of the well pump-house. A partially-used roll of toilet paper sat nearby.

“Somebody’s using it,” said Woodside of the impromptu latrine. “It stinks so bad.”

Woodside immediately placed a call to the health district while she and Thurston started assessing the damage.

The biggest concern, both Thurston and Woodside agreed, was the piles of rock. Rock of that size — approximately the size of a fist — can clog an estuary and interfere with the natural flow of the water. Enough interference can negatively impact fish which use the stream and even make the stream uninhabitable.

Thurston said the state has records of several major types of fish using the stream, including cutthroat and steelhead trout and coho and chum salmon.

“And then a lot of little native fishes that nobody cares about,” Thurston said semi-jokingly.

Woodside said Mentor, when asked, said he was trying to stabilize the creek bank, but Woodside said the city has never heard of any stability problems there before. She also said Mentor may have de-stabilized the bank himself when he cut down the brush and other plants which grew along the edge.

Mentor did not return repeated phone calls last week.

Fish and Wildlife has submitted a letter informing Mentor of his violation and demanding he repair the damage. The riprap will have to removed, Thurston said, and the bank will have to be replanted. Technically, both the city and Fish and Wildlife could slap Mentor with a handful of tickets for the violations, but Woodside said the two entities are working toward a less punitive solution.

“(Fish and Wildlife) are going to hold off on tickets until they see how quickly Mentor responds,” Woodside said. “The city hasn’t decided yet.”

Even still the act of removing the rock may be punitive enough. Woodside said it would be another violation to bring in heavy equipment to remove the rock, even if the bank could support the machinery. Therefore, she said, it looks like Mentor will have to remove all that rock by hand.

He will also have to install a silt fence to mitigate the effects of the damage he has already done and replant the creek bank to make it self-stabilizing. Mentor has offered to hire his own fish biologist to assist with the work.

“We’re going to meet on site hopefully sometime (this) week,” Thurston said.

Woodside said the city staff is still trying to figure out what to do about the un-permitted construction around the restaurant. Mentor will need to submit an impact assessment and may have to change his plans for the deck – Woodside said lights and noise can be just as harmful to fish as pollution and rock infiltration.

“It can stress them out and then they don’t do what they’re supposed to be doing,” Woodside said.

If Mentor does not comply with city and state requests, he can be fined and given a criminal citation – Thurston said violating the state hydraulic code is a gross misdemeanor. However, Thurston said the decision to cite would really be up to the city police department.

“Certainly, we’d rather see the problem corrected,” she said.

As for the unorthodox porta-potty, no one from the health district was available to comment last week. However, Woodside said she assumes as soon as agents get out to the site and see the chair, Mentor will have to clean that up, too. Although it is up to the district to make an official determination, Woodside said she expects the toilet’s proximity to the wellhead could result in long-term health problems for the site.

“I would not feel very comfortable going out there and having a glass of water at the restaurant,” Woodside said.

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