Homeowneris up against wall in no man’s land

Published on Thu, Mar 1, 2007 by Jack Kintner

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Homeowner is up against wall in no man’s land

By Jack Kintner

Retirees Shirley and Herb Leu found out the hard way last month that international law prohibits any kind of construction within ten feet of the Canadian border, and now are faced with having to move a $15,000 concrete retaining wall in their front yard 30 inches or pay to have it destroyed.

Officials from the International Boundary Commission visited the Leu’s at their house in the 2700 block of 99th Avenue last week and ordered them to move the wall out of the so-called boundary vista, a twenty-foot wide swath that lies half on the Canadian side and half on the American side of the border, or see it chopped up at their expense.

“We had no idea, and neither did our contractor,” said Shirley Leu. “We thought we had all the problems ironed out, but this has been a terrible shock.”

The Leu’s raise pure-bred Pomeranian dogs and wanted to include an exercise area outdoors for them. They also needed to find a place to put their propane tank and needed to keep their sloping front yard from gradually sliding downhill into the 0 Avenue ditch.

Johnson designed a large, U-shaped wall that runs 85 feet along the entire width of their lot and back on each side. They planned to fill it with dirt and plant a lawn inside, and top it with an 18-inch wooden fence to keep their dogs from running out into the 0 Avenue traffic.

Since there’s no front yard access except by crossing the border and working from 0 Avenue, Johnson piped the 17 yards of concrete it took to build the wall over the top of the house after making sure that he had satisfied all city building regulations.

“They told me to go ahead with it,” Johnson said, “that the design was fine and that all the permits were in place.” That was last November.

Last week when Boundary Commission officials Peter Sullivan of Ottawa, Ontario, and Dennis L. Schornack of Washington, D.C., visited they handed Shirley Leu a letter with an ultimatum but refused a discussion.

On Sunday the Leus attended a town meeting style forum put on by U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA) in Blaine and showed the letters and supporting material to Jasper McSlarrow of Larsen’s staff and asked for help.

“He called back today,” Leu said on Tuesday, “and promised to take this up with the boundary commission in Washington, D.C. We hope it works.”

“We’ll make it right, that’s not a problem,” said Johnson, who came along with the Leus to speak with Larsen’s staff, “but why would we be able to get the city’s OK and all that when there’s suddenly this big deal?”

Blaine’s community development director Terry Galvin said that he was not familiar with the case, but said that while he sympathized with the Leus, the job of city staff is to enforce local codes.

“Our expertise does not extend to include international border issues,” he said.

Shirley Leu said that when the representatives left “they headed for Point Roberts, where I guess there are some other people who have done the same thing.”