A federal judge has ruled in favor of the city in a dispute with a homeowner who built a salmon pond and other landscaping features on his property that damaged wetlands at the mouth of Coal Creek.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman rejected claims by William Weinstein and the Newport Yacht Club that his salmon pond enhanced salmon habitat.
Weinstein, an attorney, owns parcels that straddle Coal Creek where it empties into Lake Washington in the Newport Shores neighborhood. The lot upon which he built his house consists almost entirely of wetlands.
City building permits allowed Weinstein to disturb only 4,000 square feet of the property, though his development ended up spanning more than 10,000 square feet, including the plastic-lined pond, a well and water purification plant, house and large deck, sidewalks and landscaped yard.
Pechman's ruling means Bellevue will be able to recover $434,000 in attorneys' fees and other costs previously spent in defending the lawsuit. The total amount the city will recoup is expected to top $700,000 once additional costs and attorneys' fees for the latest trial are included.
"The salmon project Weinstein built violates the Bellevue City Code, because it grossly exceeds the disturbance limits and ignores the mitigation conditions imposed" to limit the negative effect on wetlands, Pechman concluded.
In 2009, after the city found that Weinstein had violated city codes, he sued the city, claiming that it had failed to sufficiently control sedimentation in Coal Creek and that it should allow his salmon pond because it was a "salmon habitat enhancement project."
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled against Weinstein and the Newport Yacht Club in 2010, and in 2011 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision. However, it ruled that the question of whether Weinstein's salmon project constituted habitat enhancement would have to go back to district court. Pechman's ruling last week reaffirmed the city's position.
Over the years, the city has spent more than $3 million to improve the shoreline in the area and minimize erosion along Coal Creek.
Bellevue Assistant City Attorney Cheryl Zakrzewski and fishery experts for the city said in court that Weinstein's project amounted to a hatchery and that the project and surrounding landscaping harmed, rather than enhanced, salmon habitat on Coal Creek.
"From the beginning, this case has been about protecting the public interest regarding the treatment of wetlands, and about applying rules in a fair, consistent way for all Bellevue residents," Zakrzewski said. "We're pleased the judge ruled in favor of the city and that we'll be able to recoup legal expenses on behalf of taxpayers."
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