Bert Wasch retired after working as an electrician his entire life. His dream was to spend his final years building and then living in a home on five acres of land he purchased in rural Thurston County. Like many modern governments, Thurston County claims ultimate control over all the land within its jurisdiction. Yet Bert’s property is zoned for one home. County maps showed no wetlands there. Nothing seemed to stand in the way of Bert’s dream.
Bert asked the County for permission—a permit—to build his home. He paid the necessary fees. Yet Thurston County refused to grant his permit. Instead, someone in County government decided to make Bert’s life miserable.
According to records obtained by the Freedom Foundation, Thurston County employee Fern Schiltz filed an anonymous complaint against Bert Wasch alleging his property was a natural wetland. Had Bert been accused of committing a crime, he would have had a right to a speedy trial, to confront his accuser, to only reasonable punishments, and to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. None of these apply to a person like Bert, a landowner accused of owning land that is “too important” to use.
County officials claim to have enough expertise to suspect, but not determine, that land is wet. They told Bert that if he wanted to build his home, he would have to prove that his property was not a wetland. In practical terms, this meant hiring an expensive expert and suffering a long delay.
Bert spent thousands of dollars on a private wetland hydrologist and a 145-page wetland study. The study confirmed the County’s own maps, concluding that no wetland exists on Bert’s land. Yet even this was not enough. Together with the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers, Thurston County delayed for another year and a half while attempting to find some excuse to deny Bert’s permit.
Finally, after years of delay and thousands of dollars of expenses, the County admitted Bert’s property has no wetlands. Bert got ready to start building. But wait, County bureaucrats warned him, his original permit application was no good. With all the delays, it had expired. Bert must reapply and even pay the fees, all over again. Today, Bert is left to wonder if he will ever achieve his simple, personal dream.
Shelter is a basic human need. Building a home is a part of many people’s dreams. If a person, to build his own home, must go on bended knee to ask permission … is that person really free?
And if unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats can persecute someone like Bert Wasch, if they can subject people to indefinite delays, holding dreams hostage and as they hold citizens guilty until proven innocent … is that the rule of law?
Bert’s story is a Tale of Tyranny, yet it is far from unique. Stories like this one happen in counties and cities across the country. They are the result of power taken away from individual citizens and given to faceless bureaucracies. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. The Freedom Foundation is working to reestablish limits on government and return power to individual people, families, and communities.