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Tenants of Ilwaco RV park face eviction

Representatives of the new owners of Beacon RV park in Ilwaco, Wash., delivered eviction summons to tenants Tuesday. Katie Frankowicz/KMUN

Tenants of an RV park in Ilwaco, Wash., knew the eviction notices were coming. On Tuesday, they finally arrived.

A man and a woman roamed the Beacon RV park off Elizabeth Avenue, handing official eviction summons to some tenants or simply taping the summons to people’s doors.

It is a situation that county officials and Long Beach Peninsula residents have warned is “homelessness in the making” ever since the park was sold earlier this year to Michael and Denise Werner of Deer Point Meadows Investments LLC. The Port of Ilwaco owns the land, but Mike Cassinelli, the current mayor of Ilwaco, sold the business and his interest in the lease with the port to the Werners in April for $1.5 million.

Pacific County is short on housing and the tenants of Beacon RV represent some of the most vulnerable of Ilwaco’s population. As many as 100 people may have lived at the park at one point — representing a sizable percentage for Ilwaco, where the total population hovers around 1,000.

While most of the park’s former tenants have already left, it isn’t clear where they have all gone. Among the roughly 15 tenants that remain, many don’t know where they will go. The RVs they live in are older and many are not in good working order. If the tenants have to leave, their homes are likely not coming with them.

The tenants say what they have always needed was more time. 

“We knew that we were going to have to leave,” said Beacon resident Lawrence Bergquist, “but, you know, we need the time to organize, to get the funds, to seek out help wherever we can.”

He said his RV might be moveable. He is not sure and, either way, many of the other trailer parks in the area are full right now as summer begins. He is looking for other housing options, but is worried about the rising cost of rent on the Peninsula.

“This is scary that it’s an actual evictions summons, but — at the same time, with how much BS they’ve done — who knows what’s going to come next and that’s just a scary thought,” said Bergquist’s 22-year-old nephew, Dallas Busse, referring to the park’s new owners, the Werners.

“Right now,” Busse added, “as in options to where I’m going to go, I don’t really have many. I still don’t even have money.”

Busse has lived at the park off and on since 2011. He believes that if the Werners had begun the process of moving people out using the proper legal channels in the first place, most people would have left long ago.

But even before the Werners officially took ownership of the business earlier this year, they were trying to get people to leave. Vacate notices were sent several times before and after the sale — none of them valid according to an attorney representing some of the tenants. The state Attorney General’s Office intervened and tenants faced weeks of uncertainty.

“There are a lot better ways this could have been done,” Busse said.

The new notices are official, however: eviction summons issued through the Pacific County Superior Court. 

It isn’t clear what happens next for the tenants. Busse and others are in contact with Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services and are waiting for calls back about how to proceed now that they have received the summons. 

The tenants say that in addition to the previous wrongful eviction efforts, the Werners’ representatives have also tried to threaten or intimidate them into leaving. Similar complaints and accusations have followed the Werners at other properties they own in the Pacifc Northwest. 

The Beacon tenants also believe the Werners have violated various terms of the lease with the port by not maintaining the park and by trying to force tenants out early. Local police had to be called to halt earlier efforts by representatives of the Werners to remove trailers and tenants’ property without the proper court orders in place.

KMUN reached out to the Werners and their attorney for comment, but received no response.

Attempts by the tenants and their advocates to convince the Port of Ilwaco to cancel the lease with the Werners have been unsuccessful. 

Frank Chmelik, the general counsel for the Washington Public Ports Association and an attorney the port commissioners consulted this month, advised the commission against simply canceling the lease. The port, he noted, had already accepted advance rent from the Werners and terms in the lease gave the Werners until later this summer to come into compliance on certain issues with the park.

He told commissioners that canceling the lease would be very risky; he doubted a court would rule in the port’s favor if the cancellation was challenged.

If anything, he said, the port should be monitoring the Werners for compliance with the lease and responding with the appropriate actions if there are any issues.

Meanwhile, some officials with the city of Ilwaco, most prominently Mayor Cassinelli, say there is little the city can do. City Councilor Margarita Cullimore has been a vocal advocate for the tenants at city and port meetings. She has challenged responses by Cassinelli and Port Commission Chair Butch Smith.

Katie Lindstrom, director of Pacific County Health and Human Services, remains deeply concerned about the situation at Beacon RV, especially given the lack of housing across the county. The county had previously written to the city and the state about concerns at the park and the potential consequences if residents were displaced.

“I think the RV parks in general fill a gap,” Lindstrom said, adding, “Not in an ideal way, but they do fill a gap. I do think the closure of Beacon, in particular, really is going to disproportionally affect people who are on the lower income end of the spectrum and people with disabilities and other issues that make it difficult to find other housing.” 

But, she says there is little the county can do except what it has already done, which is try to support the tenants and help them make connections to ensure their rights are upheld.

In addition to flagging earlier vacate notices that were later rescinded, the county has also noted failures by the Werners to provide proper garbage receptacles and to turn in an application for an RV park license. The Werners have since addressed both issues.