Blainecouple sue feds over wall removal order

Published on Thu, Apr 12, 2007 by Jack Kintner

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Blaine couple sue feds over wall removal order

By Jack Kintner

Herb and Shirley Leu of Blaine filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District court in Seattle to keep the International Boundary Commission (IBC) from demolishing an 85-foot long concrete retaining wall in their back yard.

The north side of their Canada View property runs along the US-Canada border which at that location is a drainage ditch along Canada’s Zero Avenue.

Officials from the International Boundary Commission (IBC) demanded last February that the wall come down because it encroaches a foot and a half into the so-called boundary vista, a 20-foot wide swath that straddles the border.

The IBC, in the words of the 1925 treaty that created it, is charged with keeping the boundary vista “open,” but that mandate has never been specifically defined according to Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Brian Hodges, who filed the lawsuit for the Leu’s. The foundation is furnishing their services to the Leu’s for free.

Canada formally defined its boundary vista responsibilities by federal regulations enacted shortly after the treaty was signed, but “the term [boundary vista] is not defined or codified by any United States statute,” said Hodges.

Language used by the IBC itself seems to confirm Hodges’ opinion. A Washington, D.C.-based commissioner of the International Boundary Commission, Dennis Schornack, hand delivered a letter to the Leu’s last February that said the wall is a violation of commission policy, not federal law.

“IBC policy on such encroachments is clear and long-standing: they are simply not allowed,” he said.

He insisted that the wall come down by April 9 or the IBC would do it at the Leu’s expense.

Shirley Leu said that building the house was difficult at first because of problems with their original contractor, a Blaine man they met while still living in Hawaii.

They eventually moved to Blaine and hired Blaine contractor Walt Johnson to finish the work. Everything went smoothly until “these men showed up and ordered us to tear down our new wall,” she said, shaking her head.

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

City staff pointed out that they’re not responsible for enforcing federal policy but admitted they’d never heard of the policy.

The Leu’s case received widespread publicity after the couple met with congressman Rick Larsen in Blaine last month. So far, no one has shown up from the IBC to remove the wall, and no one was available from the agency to comment on the matter.