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County's purchase of mobile home community means moving day is coming

Gary Evett sits on his back porch watching the Cedar River. After 18 years in this location, he will have to move because the county purchased the Riverbend Mobile Home Community. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
Gary Evett sits on his back porch watching the Cedar River. After 18 years in this location, he will have to move because the county purchased the Riverbend Mobile Home Community.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

Residents of the Riverbend Mobile Home Community just east of Renton city limits are not thrilled the county purchased the park and will be relocating all of the residents during the next three years.

“I’m just crying right now,” said Gary Evett on Tuesday as he sat on his back porch overlooking the Cedar River.

Evett and his wife Cathy have lived in the mobile home on the same spot overlooking the Cedar for 18 years. The home has been in Gary’s family even longer.

It’s a beautiful location, with the geese flying up the river literally just feet from their back porch, which they said they just had built last year.

“The salmon spawn right in front of our house,” Gary said, shaking his head. “It’s a crying shame.”

But the Evetts, like everyone in the Riverbend Mobile Home Community, will be moving out in the next two or three years as the land they rent for their home will be turned into parkland.

King County last week announced the purchase of the 18.6-acre, mobile-home park for $6.8 million as part of a long-term public safety project to protect residents along the river from floods.

The Riverbend property fills a gap in a five-mile stretch of publicly owned land along the south bank of the river between the Elliot Bridge Reach and Belmondo Natural Area.

“It’s a public safety project at the end of the day,” said Doug Williams, media relations coordinator for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “It removes people from harm’s way.”

The Riverbend Mobile Home Community currently has 87 occupied mobile homes and 38 occupied RV sites. All residents will be eligible for relocation benefits.

But that is cold comfort for the Evetts and other residents of the park.

Gary and Cathy were married at the park, right on the banks of the river behind their home and their plan was to retire soon and stay right there on the Cedar River.

“There’s nobody that wants to leave,” he said of his neighbors.

Williams said residents are “understandably upset” about having to leave the community, which provides low-income housing and has a large percentage of Spanish-speaking residents.

But Williams insisted the move was necessary to restore the river’s natural channel and protect residents from rising flood waters.

Acquiring the Riverbend property has long been a high priority in the King County Flood Hazard Management plan, approved by the King County Council. Williams said when the park’s owners approached the county earlier this year about selling the land, the county decided to take the opportunity to complete the stretch of greenway along the river.

“They offered it for sale and we were able to negotiate a price that was fair,” he said.

The $6.8 million cost of the land will come from a number of sources, including from the King County Flood Control District and a mix of state and regional grants, including the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, King County Conservation Futures and WRIA 8 Cooperative Watershed Management grants.

“A fundamental role of local government is to protect residents and property from injury and damage by natural disasters,” said Mark Isaacson, director of King County’s Water and Land Resources Division, in a press release. “Although it’s hard to imagine at the height of summer, this community faces risks from both flooding and sudden changes in the river’s course during winter floods. In 1990, the river channel shifted suddenly overnight, washing out the flood control levee and undercutting and threatening homes.”

The Evetts dispute the county’s assessment of the danger of floods, citing the 1990 flood as the only time the water crested the river’s banks, though they do say it has been close twice since then.

But they are not worried. The photograph sent with the purchase announcement of a home with the river flowing under it during the 1990 event is their home. At the time it was occupied by Gary’s grandfather, who told officials trying to get him to leave “the captain goes down with the ship” before closing the door and riding out the storm.

But with the sale to the county – a move that several residents said was unexpected and surprising to them – relocation efforts are already under way, beginning with appraisals of all of the homes to establish fair market value.

The residents who live closest to the river, like the Evetts, will be the first to be moved.

Under the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Property Acquisitions Policies Act, the county will pay for the homes, the relocation to “comparable” housing and moving expenses. Residents will also be eligible for rent supplement for three years to make up the difference between their current rent and that of their new home.

“They can move where ever they want,” said acquisition and relocation specialist Linda Holecek. “There’s no restriction.”

The county expects the complete relocation to take about three years.

Williams also insisted the purchase by the county is better for residents than a purchase by a private investor, because of the relocation program.

But to the Evetts, who said they know they will be compensated, the wound is still fresh.

“This is like a little slice of paradise,” Gary said waving his arm toward the river. “We are just crushed we are being forced out by King County.”

This story has been corrected. It was Gary Evett's grandfather who lived on the property in 1990, not his father as originally posted.

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