For seven years, Viola Allen, an ailing 72-year-old widow, has been desperately trying to sell her 8-acre property in Lynnwood, Washington so she can finally have enough money to move out of her rapidly deteriorating home.
But local environmental activists are stopping Viola from selling the land she has owned for 44 years because they claim that a tiny stream in a ditch going through the property is vital for Puget Sound chinook salmon, a federally-protected species. The problem is: There has never been salmon in the "stream."
This controversy began in 1992 when Viola and her neighbor, 82-year-old Delila Gribble, agreed to sell their combined 18-acre property to Diana Clay, a Lynnwood housing developer, who planned to build a 51-house subdivision on the parcel. It took over two years just to resolve an annexation dispute between the City of Lynnwood and the county before approval was finally given for the annexation in 1996.
That's when a local environmental group, Citizens for a Natural Habitat (CNH), stepped in to stop the project. CNH activists claim that the tiny stream called Tunnel Creek that runs through Viola's and Delila's properties is vital to the survival of endangered salmon. This is hard to believe given that Tunnel Creek is a ditch that is completely dry in the summer and has but a tiny trickle of water in the winter. Several studies have determined that Tunnel Creek is not capable of supporting salmon. CNH activists offer no credible research to justify their claim. The Washington Department of Fisheries, for instance, issued a formal opinion that Tunnel Creek is not and could never be a salmon-bearing stream.
Yet CNH ignores these findings. After the City Council approved the development, CNH filed a lawsuit in county court on April 19, 1999 to block the project, insisting that the stream is important for salmon preservation - but again offering no proof.
While other developments have been planned and built in the area during the dispute, the ladies have been stuck paying a soaring tax bill. Although they get monthly payments from Clay that partially compensate them for the property, it is not enough. Delila says "If this doesn't get settled, I'm going to be in the poorhouse." Viola says the tax bill on her property, valued at $591,000, is $2,900.
Things are especially dire for Viola. She suffers from emphysema and must stay on oxygen all day but her house is in such poor condition that every time it rains - which happens quite a bit in the Pacific Northwest - her basement floods. The resulting mildew makes her medical condition even worse.
Source: Diana Clay