Walla Walla City Attorney Tim Donaldson sent a clear message to the owners of the rubble that was once the Blue Mountain Mall -- the city is dead serious about forcing a clean-up of that property.
Last week Donaldson, in a highly unusual move for a city attorney, personally served legal papers to the property owners at an office in Bellevue.
The serving of legal papers starts a 20-day clock for owners to respond or possibly make way for the city to get access to and clean up the property, which has been an embarrassment and eyesore for more than three years.
The company that owns the property, Walla Walla Town Center LLC, has been, to this point, all talk and no action. And the folks who are in charge have been difficult to find.
That's what prompted Donaldson to take matters into his own hands. The seemingly simple act of serving legal papers to the representatives of the company turned into a two-week process. A hired server arrived at the Bellevue address on July 8, but found the doors locked.
Donaldson told U-B reporter Vicki Hillhouse that he initially was greeted on his surprise visit by Greg Erickson, who is listed as a manager, member and registered agent for the limited liability company. Erickson is reportedly the son-in-law of developer Winston Bontrager, who is believed to be the principal behind Walla Walla Town Center.
Bontrager emerged from the office shortly after Donaldson arrived. Bontrager told Donaldson the reconstruction of the mall property in Walla Walla is expected to begin again soon. He said he has been working on closing loans for the project and his financial issues with the Internal Revenue Service are being resolved.
We will believe him when the new project has been totally completed and the stores are open for business. And we suspect Donaldson is equally dubious of Bontrager's latest yarn.
"If something does happen (with development) -- great," Donaldson said. "But we're not going to delay anything we're doing because of something they tell us they're going to do."
Given all the problems dealing with owners of the mall site, getting this property cleaned up is going to be a challenge. And it is likely going to be expensive for the city of Walla Walla.
Sure, the city will try to recover every tax dollar, but the reality is Bontrager, Erickson et. al might not have the money to cover the costs.
Nevertheless, even if taxpayers have to pick up the entire tab, the city needs to take the legal steps necessary to gain access to the property and then do the clean-up work as cost effectively as possible. Eliminating the mess is a wise use of tax dollars. No, the mall is not public property but cleaning it up is addresses a public concern.
And for the city attorney to travel to Bellevue was wise use of resources. Donaldson was able to personally deliver the legal papers as well as the message that Walla Walla is serious about eliminating the eyesore that was the Blue Mountain Mall.