By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Almost four years ago, while the public’s attention was turned to predictions of flooding on major rivers in Western Washington, forecasters were warning the coming heavy rains would swell small streams and increase the likelihood of landslides.
In Morton, an estimated three feet of snow on the ground melted down to two in about 12 hours.
Rain-saturated snow collapsed roofs. Creeks and rivers overflowed and changed courses and hillsides of trees and mud slid into houses, yards and across roadways.
It was Jan. 7, 2009.
Interstate 5 was closed from exit 68 and to the north through Lewis County because of water over the freeway. At the same time, U.S. Highway 12 between Morton and Packwood was shut down with multiple mudslides.
The Glenoma area was especially hard hit.
Lawyers representing 11 families wrapped up closing arguments in Lewis County Superior Court today in a trial in which a timber company is being asked to repay them for the damages.
Seattle-based lawyer David Bricklin contends Menasha Forest Products, purchased in 2007 by The Campbell Group based in Portland, clear cut a steep unstable slope above Glenoma causing a number of properties to be buried by mud on Jan. 7, 2009.
Menasha’s attorney Bud Fallon says the huge storm with an unprecedented amount of water started a process of erosion which caused great damage. But no one was hurt, and no one was killed, Fallon said.
The trial began Nov. 1 before Judge Nelson Hunt.
The “harvest unit” in question was about 118 acres of Douglas Fir clear-cut in the year 2000, according to Fallon.
Fallon spoke to the jury today of multiple slides that ripped whole trees from the ground, and sent boulders, rocks and 16,000 cubic feet of soil down the hillside.
He said Menasha followed the logging rules set by the Department of Natural Resources.
“This isn’t a landslide, you can see clearly this is erosion,” he said. “The run off would have been the same whether the harvest occurred or not.”
The plaintiff’s attorney Bricklin argued it was a big storm, but one that could have been anticipated and taken into account.
The huge storm of 1996 didn’t cause anything similar, he said.
“What’s different between 1996 and 2009?” Bricklin asked. “One difference of course is the fact it’s been clear-cut.
“The geology didn’t change, the slope didn’t change, but the vegetation on it did.”
Bricklin noted some unique features on this site, such as slopes higher than 31 percent situated directly above homes.
“Menasha was willing to take the risk,” he said.
Olympia attorney Robert Wright filed the lawsuit in November 2010 on behalf of Glenoma residents Jerome and Bessie Hurley and others. The plaintiffs involved in the case were affected by the Martin Road slides.
Bricklin said they are asking Menasha to cover in the neighborhood of $100,000 to $750,000 per family.
Jurors began deliberating just after 3:30 p.m. today and will resume in the morning.
Seven of the original plaintiffs – from around the Lunch Creek area – will see their case go to trial in April of next year.
The Roadside Inn Tavern on U.S. Highway was destroyed during the same storm from a different mudslide, according to Wright.
Another suit filed by Wright is pending, involving Manke Timber Co. and five individuals who lived on Bear Mountain Road on the south side of the Tilton River near Morton.