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Jesse investigates local flood dangers a homeowner wasn’t warned about

A local family built a home on a piece of land they say the government knew posed a serious hazard but did little to stop it from happening. Now the Orting family faces selling the property back to the government at a $50,000 loss. Unsure of their next move, they called KIRO 7’s Jesse Jones for help.

Anita Gilderoy’s home should have never been built. The problem is all tied to the Puyallup River that runs right next to her property. When Pierce County gave the previous owner approval to build the home, it had evidence the river was expanding through the entire neighborhood. However, when Gilderoy bought the home the county never informed her of this.

“It should have been red flagged and it should not have gotten to this point,” exclaimed Gilderoy.

This all began in 1991 when the county started planning to let the Puyallup — a once highly channelized river — to flow naturally through this valley and over Gilderoy’s street. Hans Hunger, with Pierce County Public Works, said after major flooding the county questioned why it was spending millions of dollars repairing levees to protect some of the homes.

“It’s apparent to us that we are fighting a losing battle. It’s costing us more than the infrastructure than the homes are worth,” said Hunger.

That’s when the county began looking into landowners who were willing to sell, if the budget allowed. It even approached the previous owners of Gilderoy’s property in 1996.

“They were not interested because he felt he could make more money by dividing it into four lots and building homes on them,” explained Hunger.

Unfortunately, no one stopped that owner from doing just that. Then, in 2003 a GeoEngineers report paid for by the county put Gilderoy’s property in a severe channel migration zone or CMZ. Cygnia Rapp, a geomorphologist, explained a CMZ.

“The CMZ is an area that encompasses where a channel has been historically and where it will move in the future,” said Rapp.

Rapp said the Puyallup River has the potential to spread throughout the entire valley which includes Anita’s property.

“The county had information that clearly showed moderate and severe hazard from channel migration though out the area and west of Needham road,” said Rapp. “It would seem that permitting structures after 2003 is highly problematic.”

The owners of the property got a permit to build on the property in late 2004. The moratorium took place in 2005 and Gilderoy’s house passed its final inspection in spring 2005.

As for Gilderoy’s flood insurance through FEMA, the government used old maps and didn’t account for CMZ’s when rating the flood hazard so it labeled the property as a zone C – low to moderate risk.

With all this history, Gilderoy feels the county should do more for her. She paid $425,000 during the height of the housing boom but the county is only offering her fair market value of $355,000.

“I have no reason to believe we should be held at fault for buying this property when they didn’t have to disclose any of that information,” said Gilderoy.

I even found instances where the county council offered to buy a property above fair market value. Despite this, it won’t budge on Anita’s offer.

“If I start offering more to one person because of their individual circumstance how much am i forced because of fairness to offer it to everybody,” said Hunger.
Now the county says it will not rebuild the levee closest to Gilderoy’s home.

“I’m telling you Anita, I’m not going to extend the levy. I’m focusing my energy on purchasing these homes,” said Hunger.

So for now Anita will sit tight, trying to stem off the headwaters of government and an ever reaching river.

Do you have a story you want me to check out? Call 1-844-77-JESSE (53773) or send me a message here. I’ll be part of KIRO 7 Eyewitness News most weekdays at 5:15 p.m. You can also check out my Facebook page and click here to follow me on Twitter.

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