Author: Brian T. Hodges
On Monday, Fox & Friends aired an interview with PLF client Vicki Luhrs about her 10 year struggle to save her Lummi Island home from shoreline erosion. See PLF's media advisory here.
In 1992, Vicki and her husband bought their dream retirement property. Their home sits above a coastal bluff with a breathtaking view of the water and Mount Baker. Vicki soon discovered that shoreline erosion was accelerating along the toe of the bluff. But that was not a big problem, because there was an easy and economical solution: place some large boulders in front of the bluff to dissipate the wave attack.
Under Washington’s Constitution, all landowners have the fundamental right to protect and defend their property from destructive natural forces. And a state law specifically gives coastal landowners the right to protect their homes from erosion. But Whatcom County made up its own rules, prohibiting outright any hard armor on erosional bluff like Vicki’s. The County turned the law (and common sense) on its head, deciding to protect natural disasters rather than its citizens.
Today, some 10 years after she first asked permission to protect her home, Vicki is still trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare. At first, the County insisted that erosion could not take more than a couple centimeters per year. But the loss of up to 25 feet of shoreline – the foundation Vicki’s home is now less than 50 feet from the bluff – proved them wrong.
This was not enough to satisfy County bureaucrats, who insisted that the "natural process" of erosion and landslides must be preserved, even if it cost Vicki’s home. In fact, when asked by a judge whether, when the day comes, Vicki will just have to watch her house go down the bluff, the County attorney callously answered "That does happen, yes." This is unacceptable.
In late 2009, Division I of Washington’s Court of Appeals ruled in Vicki’s favor, holding that the County must allow her to install hard armor along the toe of her bluff if it is necessary to protect her home — pronto. PLF is preparing to return to trial court to argue that multiple experts (including several coastal geologists and engineers, an Army Corps specialist, and former head of County FEMA) have shown that her home is threatened by shoreline erosion.
The case is Luhrs v. Whatcom County. To learn more about this case and to receive updates, view the case information on Pacific legal Foundation’s website.