Centralia settlement eviction delayed as county considers buying property

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By Claudia Yaw / cyaw@chronline.com

The threat of eviction hanging over the years-old homeless settlement near Centralia has been delayed as Lewis County Commissioners consider whether they want to acquire the property at the end of Eckerson Road.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) initially gave county and city officials until early February to consider their options, when officials expected the property be put up for public auction, forcing the two dozen residents out. But after the county expressed interest in at least hearing an award, the WSDOT extended the right of first refusal until April 1.

According to WSDOT regional administrator Bart Gernhart, a property assessment is expected in the coming days.

This week, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock asked what value the property could add to the county. While the idea of ​​turning the land into some sort of natural area has been discussed, the 3 acres are landlocked, flanked by the highway, and designed to absorb flood waters from the nearby Skookumchuck River.

“My biggest interest is what we could do with it and what is the value to the Lewis County taxpayer in purchasing this parcel?” Pollock said.

The land, divided into two adjacent parcels, has an estimated value of approximately $ 80,000. But that’s according to data from the county’s Geographic Information System. Packages could cost a lot less considering the solid waste concerns expressed by the county code enforcement officer as well as WSDOT’s desire to simply dispose of excess property.

“We said ‘yes, we are interested.’ It was just to make sure they didn’t sell it short to someone, ”Commissioner Sean Swope said.

For residents of the self-managed camp, the move gives more time to connect with services and accommodation options.

“It is premature to say if / when an eviction process on this site could begin,” Gernhart said in an email. “We try to be sensitive to people living on state property. Prior to any homeless camp clean-up, we provide at least 72 hours notice and often up to 30 days prior to taking action.

Yet outreach workers such as Meja Handlen, Housing Coordinator for Lewis County Public Health and Social Services, said without a comprehensive plan and increased accommodation capacity – which has yet to materialize – residents will likely be left scrambling, as they have been. before. Handlen and other outreach workers pointed to a staggering lack of housing availability in the county, coupled with waiting lists for existing housing services. And the county night shelter at the fairgrounds will close next month.

“We know it’s going to be a holistic approach, that it’s not, obviously, we take ownership and we tell everyone to get out of there,” Swope said. “We want to make sure that the people who are there are taken care of. “

While the commissioners said they were unaware of any efforts to increase accommodation capacity in the county, Pollock argued that it would depend “heavily on what the state decides to do in terms of funding”.

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