Fines assessed as 'junk pile' saga continues in court

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WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla District Court Judge John Knowlton fined A. Laverne Filan $250 this week for failing to meet a deadline for cleaning up his property near Waitsburg.

Filan, and his mother Doris Filan, appeared in court Wednesday, roughly a year after Knowlton issued a fine for $75 for Walla Walla County code violations for “debris and excess vegetation.”

Since commissioners passed the ordinance in question in 2008, the Filans have been fighting the county over the massive “junk pile” that has been accumulating on their property for decades.

In court, Wednesday, Filan said he has been making progress removing old equipment, cars and other items from his property.

“I’ve been trying to get rid of stuff,” Filan told Knowlton. “There were quite a few things I got rid of that weren’t counted.”

Filan also challenged Code Enforcement Officer Nina Baston, stating she didn’t clarify what items needed to be removed, and wouldn’t look at vehicles Filan said were operable and therefore not subject to removal.

Filan stated that Baston told him she wasn’t interested in looking at vehicles Filan claimed were operable.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t interested,” Baston said. “That wasn’t the priority that day.”

Filan also said the ordinance exempts certain farm machinery and claimed Baston not only didn’t recognize some of the farm equipment on his property, but didn’t know what crop was growing in his field.

“I’m not a farmer,” Baston replied. “And I’m not an expert on plants.”

“You didn’t know what wheat was?” Filan rebutted.

After testimony from both sides, Doris Filan, Laverne’s mother and owner of the property read a letter to the court, asking for consideration of the hardships the ordinance has put her son through.

“Laverne feels he has removed close to half of what was there,” Doris Filan read. “He needs time.”

Doris Filan said during the spring, the fields were too muddy to work in, and a long, dry summer kept Laverne Filan from using a torch to cut up metal for long periods. Due to pressure from the county, Doris Filan said her son was forced to try to sell scrap metal, and was repeatedly swindled.

“Can the county expect him to sell it for little or nothing?” Doris Filan read. “Can I ask the court to consider what he is going through?”

Laverne Filan said one company still owes him nearly $50,000 for scrap metal they removed from his property.

“I’ve been ripped off time and time again,” Filan siad. “The only reason I did it was to get into compliance.”

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte agreed the Filans have made progress, but asked the court to impose the $250 fine on both Laverne and Doris Filan.

“I don’t disagree that they are making progress,” Nolte said, adding, “it undercuts the code if we don’t deal with this case.”

Knowlton, in his decision, told the Filans he hopes they will be able to make money from their scrap metal, but they are still in violation of the code.

“To a certain extent, you’re lucky the county is trying to work with you,” Knowlton said, pointing out the county is only asking for a one-time fine of $250, and not multiple days of fines, a provision the code allows for.

“I’m going to find you both committed the offense,” Knowlton said, issuing individual fines of $250 for both Filans. Knowlton then suspended the fine for Doris Filan.

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