BENTON CITY -- Former Benton City mayor Bryan Robinson says a state Department of Ecology hydrologist told him that filling in an abandoned irrigation ditch is "a non-issue" because many of his neighbors also have buried the ditch on their properties.
Robinson was arrested Thursday morning on his property when he tried to stop city employees from digging up part of the ditch where it met a large culvert going under Babs Avenue.
Robinson received a letter from Theodore Olson in Ecology's floodplain management division on Thursday that said the city itself may be "out of compliance with their own ordinance" if officials force Robinson to obtain a permit to fill the ditch.
Robinson says he is at odds with the city because he was not able to obtain a development permit before he had the ditch buried.
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Robinson, who insisted the city crew was trespassing on his land Thursday, was jailed on suspicion of disorderly conduct. He was released after paying $250 bail.
Olson noted in his letter that he toured Robinson's three-acre goat and chicken ranch at 210 Second St. on Wednesday. He noted the ditch was virtually nonexistent elsewhere along Babs Road except for about 120 feet of it on Robinson's land.
"It has been filled in by dumped dirt, rocks, junk farm equipment or corrals for horses or cattle, and (covered) by new manufactured homes," Olson wrote.
Olson noted that city ordinance requires Robinson to get a development permit, and Robinson said he has tried, but the city hasn't accepted his application.
In his letter, Olson also said there is no floodplain regulation that would stop the city from issuing the permit.
"If all of the property owners to the west of you did not obtain a development permit from the city, the city is in violation of their own ordinance," he wrote. That would mean the city is out of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program, Olson added.
One of the properties where the ditch was filled in belongs to Benton City Mayor Lloyd Carnahan.
Carnahan told the Herald he filled the ditch to reduce a mosquito problem years ago.
City staff told the Herald on Friday that the dispute between Robinson and the city over the permit went before a city hearings examiner, whose decision is expected sometime next week.
Also Friday, a state Department of Transportation employee inspected the buried ditch where it once connected with the large culvert going under Babs Avenue.
The city construction crew was digging to expose the end of the culvert when Robinson confronted them Thursday morning.
Robinson told the state employee that the culvert served no purpose for carrying water because virtually all of the ditch upstream from his property was already filled in.
In essence, said Robinson, it was a culvert to and from nowhere.
Robinson said the city construction crew told him they were following a state order to do the excavation.
A copy of a Dec. 13 email from a state Department of Transportation official to Benton City Public Works asked the city to work with the state in trying to resolve the concern about a blocked culvert.
"I am aware that you are working with the landowner surrounding the dirt work that he has done. With the shared jurisdiction in that location I would ask that we address this in the near future," Mark Brewster wrote.
Robinson claimed that's not enough to authorize the city to show up on his land, unannounced, with a backhoe, and start digging.
Carnahan declined to discuss the ditch problem because the hearing examiner decision is pending.