The Goldendale City Council had hoped to be able to meet by Zoom or some other online video conferencing platform by this week, but Monday’s meeting was by telephone. Unfortunately, the phone setup was plagued by difficulties. At one point, connection to city hall dropped out, and it was 10 minutes before access was restored.  

That gap may have irritated some councilors because discussion on one topic was unusually contentious. At issue was a request from the most recent council meeting by homeowner Craig Noviks. The agreed facts were these: he bought land from the city to build a house. The property contained an old easement for the city to access water pipes running through the property, though the pipes were no longer in use. They were buried just two feet underground, and Noviks needed to go down four feet for his foundations, so he had the pipes removed. He told the council he excavated six pipes, each 14 feet long, at a cost of $1,800. 

The problem was the pipes were asbestos. Asbestos is classified as a hazardous material that has to be excavated, removed, and disposed of by trained specialists, and they are expensive. At that earlier meeting, Noviks said that because the pipes were “abandoned” by the city, “I’d like to see if the city of Goldendale would haul that away so I don’t have to pay for the expenses of hauling with a specialist.”

Justin Leigh, a former council member who now works for the city half-time as a planner, presented a memo to the council in which he noted he had consulted with the Washington Cities Insurance Authority. In that memo, he cited three areas in which the liabilities in the matter might be a liability for Noviks rather than the city in that he “knowingly and intentionally removed the City’s water pipe without the City’s approval.”

The memo indicated that by doing so, he may be liable for the “theft and destruction of the water line, which is municipal property.”

It also noted that Noviks and his contractor “may have violated a number of asbestos removal laws and that “the storage of asbestos on Mr. Noviks’s property likely constitutes a nuisance.”

Leigh’s memo added:

“To the extent my findings are mainly concerned with litigation, it is not out of a sense of litigiousness nor does it in any way stem from a desire to retaliate against Mr. Noviks—I want that to be clear on those points. The legal conclusions I have relayed are, in my opinion, the natural result of researching the matter at hand which, by its very nature, poses a great deal of risk to both the City and to the public.”

That drew vigorous pushback from councilors Loren Meagher and Kevin Feiock, who characterized the pipes as abandoned and thus their removal could not be characterized as theft. There was some thought that the city should also compensate Noviks for his excavation as well as the $2,000 necessary to have properly trained professionals wrap and prepare the pipes and transport them for disposal.

Ultimately, despite concerns of other council members about setting a precedent, councilors agreed with a motion by councilor Andy Halm to compensate Noviks for their safe disposal, but not their excavation,

In other agenda items, no one offered testimony during  a routine pair of public meetings dealing with the city’s budget revenue sources. The council unanimously approved a 1 percent increase in city property taxes, the maximum allowed by the state. This year that totaled $9,355.54. The city also gets taxes on new construction and from annexations. 

Councilors also approved a $13,000 contract for nuisance abatement, in this case cleaning abandoned manufactured homes, travel trailers, automobiles, and other refuse and debris from a property at 904 South Grant Street. This was no overnight decision. The city has been working on this for four years after exhausting all voluntary compliance efforts and following all the legal steps. Standard practice is for the city to recover its cost by placing a lien on the property that must be paid before the property is sold or can change hands.