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By Garth Meyer
Whitman County Gazette 

Local seeks more money from county


February 11, 2021

COLFAX — Whitman County commissioners heard a local landowner discuss why he deserved more money for installing a culvert on his property after a water runoff event.

Aaron Johnson presented his reasoning on Monday.

He said he expressed concern about earthwork done last summer by the county with Dean Cornelison, assistant county engineer, who oversaw the Almota Phase Four road reconstruction project.

“I pointed out, what to me was a completely foreseeable flooding problem,” Johnson said.

He stated that in a conversation in person with Cornelison back then that the county engineer said they will ‘wait and see.’

“I thought that was an odd attitude to take toward my stuff,” Johnson said.

Months later, after significant rain, stormwater arrived.

“Watching this run into my wife’s flowerbed was more than I could stand, so I set the fix in motion,” Johnson said.

His neighbor installed a culvert, directing the runoff away from Johnson’s yard.

“I’m an engineer too,” said Johnson. “On something like Almota Four, there’s tons and tons of details to track and among the thousands you may miss a detail... I get that... Who should take responsibility? I never dreamt that I would punish my client by making them pay for it.”

After the culvert was in place, Johnson reported that he gave Cornelison the invoice, “and I was surprised by the pushback... If that makes me the villain in this story, I still feel like I’m the villain for the right reasons... I’m kind of appalled at the ethics of this decision but my losses are capped.”

Commissioner Art Swannack then asked to clarify whether the runoff occurred on a weekend (in November), as Johnson had stated, noting it was the reason he did not call the county. Johnson said it was a Friday.

“That’s a weekend, don’t you work four tens?” he said.

Swannack said not at that time of the year.

Public Works Director Mark Storey then gave his input.

“I agree with almost everything Aaron says,” he said. “This is something we do have culpability for... Any time we have water over a road, anything emergency-related, we tend to respond really quickly, we can’t respond if we don’t know what’s going on...Once there was water over the driveway, I would’ve expected a call saying our fears are realized.”

Cornelison confirmed that Johnson’s description of he and Cornelison’s conversation last summer was “quite accurate.”

“If there was a problem the county would take care of it, as long as we knew about it,” said Cornelison.

Commissioner Swannack then asked if the section of Almota Road reconstruction in question was modeled for water.

Cornelison answered.

“... What was built was not what was designed,” he said. “It wasn’t actually graded the way it was supposed to be.”

“The design had it sloping in a different direction,” Storey said. “I feel horrible for Aaron and what he is going through... what am I at liberty to pay for?”

The discrepancy with the road contractor had to do with final grading.

“We’re talking about inches, not feet,” Storey said.

Commissioner Michael Largent added a comment in the official work session – during which no decisions are made.

“Aaron is a neighbor of mine, I respect greatly his contributions to the community, he’s been graceful, I probably would’ve called Palouse River Rock myself in the same circumstance.”

Johnson offered another idea.

“Here’s a second best idea, come out and take a look, give an estimate of the cost if it was county work, and if it’s lower, that’s on me,” he said. “But if it’s zero, that seems absurdly low.”

Storey asserted it would be less expensive if the county had done the work.

“I disagree that we offered zero,” he said, noting the county offered to cover the materials cost, which amounted to $1,660.

“Materials was offered but nothing for labor and equipment. It could be possible that the invoice I submitted to you is quite a bargain,” Johnson said, suggesting the county would need to go through more steps such as SEPA reviews that would be part of the cost.

“I won’t even get into that,” said Storey, before Swannack moved to conclude the call, thanking Johnson for his input.

Commissioners are expected to make a decision on the matter next week.

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
Contact Garth Meyer


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