Out near Elsie, neighbors have been watching a house slowly fall apart.
Diane Jette and others who live in Evergreen Acres can’t stand the eyesore and fear the waste from unknown chemicals in the home and several abandoned cars could be polluting nearby Cow Creek.
“God only knows what’s going into the creek,” she said.
Complaints were logged, but no progress was made, largely because the property owner could never be found, according to Clatsop County records. But in October, the county foreclosed on the house over back taxes.
With the property now under the county’s control, some neighbors want the blight taken care of once and for all.
“We want you to clean this up, now, since we know who the owners are,” Ron Weber, a neighbor, told county commissioners Wednesday night.
The situation highlights the complicated issue of derelict and abandoned homes — a problem that has been steadily growing.
“It’s tough, because if it’s not tax foreclosed, we can provide notices and fines, but otherwise there is no legal recourse,” said Monica Steele, the interim county manager.
In situations like the one near Elsie, the county would typically sell the dilapidated property. For neighbors like Jette and Weber, that solution isn’t adequate.
They feel the property is in such disarray that it is practically unsellable, which makes them worry the blight and potential pollution will simply continue while it stays on the county’s books.
Even if the property does sell, neighbors say there is no guarantee it will be cleaned up.
“I want them to clean it up, and then sell it,” Weber said.
But that’s a task easier said than done, Steele said. Though the county technically owns the property, the government is not liable for the mess it inherited, and faces legal hurdles when handling the personal effects left behind.
“We can’t just remove property that isn’t ours,” Steele said. “You have to take steps to notify the owner of the items.”
But there are notable exceptions made on a case-by-case basis, Steele said. Last year, county commissioners voted to take possession of a dilapidated property on G Road in Jeffers Garden a year ahead of schedule. The county is in the process of cleaning the property up after it was determined to be rapidly losing value.
Sirpa Duoos, a county property management specialist, said it’s the aim of the county to make sure these types of properties sell.
“We will look at all the situations and come up with a reasonable minimum bid so it does sell,” Duoos said.
Regardless of how the sale plays out, there is still an underlying frustration for Jette and Weber, who feel their complaints were overlooked for years .
“There should be no indifference to rural areas,” Weber said. “(They) should get the same respect as anywhere else in the county.”