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Erosion control work to resume at Horstman Heights

The problem-plagued Horstman Heights housing project development could soon be back on track if a contractor can successfully  control the site’s drainage problems. - Courtesy Photo
The problem-plagued Horstman Heights housing project development could soon be back on track if a contractor can successfully control the site’s drainage problems.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Assuming all goes well, work could resume any day now to stabilize the massive erosion-control problems caused by the planned Horstman Heights housing development.

Unfortunately, that’s anything but a safe assumption, since little has ever gone well for a project one observer familiar with the process described as a “poster child for how not to develop land.”

Horstman Heights, a 54-unit housing project located between Horstman Road and SE Orlando Street in Port Orchard, was most recently fined $28,000 by the Washington State Department of Ecology on Feb. 5 for illegal discharges of runoff water and for violating an order to stabilize the inactive site to prevent water quality problems.

The project’s owner, David Alan Development, LLC, of Mill Creek, was hit with its third stop-work order in November, all because of failure to control its erosion problems.

The partially excavated site has bare earth on sloping land, exposing it to the elements. DOE issued an order in November requiring the site to close down and take necessary steps to prevent soil erosion and polluted stormwater runoff.

“We understand why many construction projects are on hold in the present economy,” said Kelly Suswind, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality Program. “Before shutting down, though, the owner or contractor must stabilize the site so it doesn’t become a long-term polluter.”

Citizen complaints to DOE, the city of Port Orchard and Kitsap County about muddy water flowing off the project date back to last April.

Port Orchard, which has coordinated with DOE on the case, has given both oral and written warnings to bring the project into compliance since then.

The city issued fines totaling $3,700 in July, in part for failure to take steps to prevent soil erosion and polluted stormwater runoff.

“Everything about the project, from the consultants to the contractors to the ownership, has pretty much been a nightmare,” said Mark Dorsey, Port Orchard City Engineer.

“When I was first hired last June, the whole 11-acre site was covered with a plastic tarp to keep the soil from washing away,” he said. “But that’s a highly unusual step to take, especially since it creates as many problems as it solves.”

While keeping the soil in place, he explained, the plastic keeps rainwater from seeping into the ground, causing major runoff problems down the hill from Horstman Heights.

“They had all the necessary permits in place,” Dorsey said, “and it if the developer had gone ahead with the actual construction work during the summer months, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.”

Instead, financial problems associated with the downturn in the economy kept work from starting, and at this point David Alan Development’s funding partner, Arlington-based North County Bank, is in the process of assuming control of the project.

“The contractor has essentially walked away from the project and the bank is taking steps to protect its collateral,” Dorsey said. “They’ve got a new contractor on board to stabilize the site, and we’re getting close to issuing a new permit to do what should have been done up there a long time ago.”

At that point, the bank hopes to turn the project over to an as-yet-undetermined building contractor, who will build the homes.

“I assume the new developer is going to get a really great deal,” Dorsey said.

Until the erosion problems have been corrected, however, no actual home construction work can begin.

“This is actally the third stop-work order we’ve placed on the site,” said Port Orchard Public Works Code Enforcement Officer Kathy Woodside. “We put orders on, then take them off, then put them back on again. Hopefully this time we can actually get this thing moving.”

Woodside said once the site is stabilized, the developer — whoever that might be — will first have to obtain a permit from DOE before proceeding.

“We don’t believe getting the permit should be any problem,” she said, “and if things work the way they should, they coud start construction by late spring. But there’s a lot of work that’s going to have to happen on the site before we reach that point.”

Woodside declined to say whether Horstman Heights’ problems were the result of the poor economy or poor management.

“A responsible developer would have taken care of these problems by now,” she said, “but the flow of funds to make that happen has been an issue from the beginning.”

Assuming the bank is successful in stabilizing the site, finding another developer and getting the project built, the story can still have a happy ending, Woodside said.

“We’re feeling optimistic we’re finally getting this thing resolved,” she said, “but there have been bigger projects than this around the state that the developers have just walked away from. And when that happens, what can you do?”

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