The Hurley’s green barn has been cleaned up and the brown barn has been torn down, but the ravine remains on their property since the 2009 mudslides. / Courtesy photo
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The jury in the Glenoma mudslides case returned a verdict this morning in favor of Menasha Forest Products.
The attorney representing 11 families whose properties were inundated with mud, trees, boulders and debris during a January 2009 storm says they may appeal.
“It’s too early to know, but it’s certainly something we’re considering,” Seattle-based lawyer David Bricklin said.
The decision by 12 men and women was reached in less than three hours following an approximately six-week long trial in Lewis County Superior Court. Specifically, they found Menasha was not negligent in its actions.
Bricklin, representing the plaintiffs, contended it was Menasha’s clear cutting of a steep unstable slope above Glenoma that caused the destruction to a number of properties. Menasha’s lawyers said it was erosion from a storm that brought an unprecedented amount of water.
Bessie Hurley, who with her husband Jerome Hurley was part of the lawsuit, said she’s deeply disappointed.
“What is most upsetting about it isn’t the money,” she said. “It’s that the logging company had it confirmed to them they can do whatever they want with no consequences.”
Bessie Hurley, 59, and her family experienced multiple slides on their five acres that day, one of which left a ravine 10 feet deep and as much as 30 feet wide across their yard.
They haven’t been able to afford the bull dozing work or new top soil needed to restore their property, she said. A barn that was undercut had to be torn down, she said.
The worst part though was the fear, the fear they were going to die, she said.
She spoke of hearing what sounded like a freight train before daybreak on Jan. 7, 2009, and going outside with flashlights to explore what had occurred. Four more slides came through before they called 911 and were told, if they couldn’t get out, then rescuers wouldn’t be able reach them.
She describes walls of debris with boulders the size of Volkswagens roiling down as though in a washing machine.
The property at the far end of Martin Road has been in her family since 1964. She said she’s afraid to live there, but can’t imagine anyone who would buy the place.
She and her husband are retired, and take care of an 18-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy who is bedridden.
“I have to tell you, I feel like that logging company raped us that day, and now they did it again,” Bessie Hurley said.
Another one of the plaintiffs, the only one who doesn’t live on Martin Road, considers himself one of the luckier ones. The mud and silt only ran under his house, across his grass and ruined his nature trail and about five cords of split and stacked maple, he said.
Disappointed isn’t a strong enough word for Mike Wood.
“It’s just another case of large corporate greed,” Wood said. “They made the profit, we suffered the destruction, and they don’t have to answer for it.”
Menasha was purchased in 2007 by The Campbell Group based in Portland.
Neither they not their attorney could be reached for comment today.
Olympia attorney Robert Wright filed the lawsuit in November 2010, and took it to trial with Bricklin.
Still pending, is another mudslide suit filed by Wright, involving Manke Timber Co. and five individuals who lived on Bear Mountain Road.
Also, seven of the original plaintiffs – from around the Lunch Creek area – will see their case go to trial in April of next year in Lewis County Superior Court.
Bricklin said he didn’t think the verdict today necessarily means much for the Lunch Creek case, even though all 12 jurors agreed when only 10 were needed for a decision.
The defendant in that case is Port Blakely, and it also involves a clear cut, he said.
“The negligence claims in the Lunch Creek suit are very different,” Bricklin said. “Different different rules, different facts and different landscaping.”
For background, read “Lawsuit: Glenoma families fault logging practices for 2009 mudslide damage” from Thursday December 13, 2012, here