The state Department of Natural Resources has agreed to pay $800,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the owner of Ranch House BBQ after a 2007 mudslide destroyed the restaurant off state Route 8 near Summit Lake.
The lawsuit had alleged that DNR’s “unreasonably dangerous and unlawful forest practices” on the slopes of nearby Rock Candy Mountain caused the mudslides that destroyed the eatery Dec. 3, 2007.
Ranch House BBQ owner Amy Anderson has built a new restaurant on the site at 10841 Kennedy Creek Road S.W.
Anderson, the head chef at the restaurant, said Thursday that after paying attorney’s fees and the experts she hired for the case, the settlement will pay for only a “tiny bit” of the $914,000 small-business loan she took out to rebuild.
She said she had no insurance money to defray her rebuilding costs.
“We’re rebuilt, and we’re happy to be open,” she said. “I’ve got 20 employees that are happy to be working.”
Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran, who represented the Ranch House BBQ in the suit, said DNR took the position that the 2007 storm that led to the mudslide on Rock Candy Mountain was unprecedented.
But Cochran said the storm was not unprecedented and is the type of weather event that the “DNR really has to start thinking about when they decide to clear-cut steep slopes in Western Washington.”
After the 2007 storm, Anderson stood on the sodden property where the mudslide had washed away her restaurant and told a reporter for The Olympian, “I just lost my whole life.”
Cochran said it’s up to the DNR to make smart decisions when considering its forestry-managment practices.
As part of discovery in the lawsuit, Cochran said he obtained a 1995 report to the DNR advising that logging activity would present a “moderate to severe” mudslide risk on the slopes of Rock Candy Mountain.
“They logged it off anyway,” Cochran said.
Also, a former University of Washington professor hired as an expert on the case concluded that the DNR’s forestry-management practices contributed to the mudslide that destroyed Ranch House BBQ, Cochran said.
Cochran said the DNR was cutting trees on the slope of Rock Candy Mountain as recently as 2001.
In an e-mail sent to The Olympian on Thursday, the DNR spokesman Aaron Toso wrote, “With the help of a mutually-selected, third-party mediator, the Department of Natural Resources, Office of Financial Management, and the Attorney General’s Office came to a settlement with the Ranch House BBQ. Per the agreement, the state does not admit liability, but enters into the settlement to resolve all claims and minimize the potential cost of lengthy court battle.”
According to Ranch House’s lawsuit against DNR filed in Thurston County Superior Court, the DNR “owned the land in the Kennedy Creek Watershed above Plaintiff’s property and owed a duty to exercise reasonable care in the use and logging activities on its property to avoid harming Plaintiffs and their property.”
The lawsuit also said the DNR “knew that its logging activities in the Kennedy Creek Watershed on Rock Candy Mountain created an unreasonable danger for its downstream neighbors.”
Anderson said she hopes the department’s timber practices change so what happened to her restaurant does not happen again.
She said the cost of going to trial, and the uncertain outcome had she gone to trial, contributed to her decision to accept a settlement.
“I believe that something is better than nothing,” she said.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465