About 200 persons who had leased property at the base of Mount St. Helens have sued the federal government and the states of Oregon and Washington for failing to require the land developer to disclose environmental hazards at the site.
The civil suit was removed from state court to the federal district court in Oregon in June after the Office of Interstate Land Sales Registration within the Department of Housing and Urban Development was named as a defendant in the case. The land sales office is responsible for protecting consumers from interstate fraud by requiring land developers to file disclosure documents with its office. The federal government is expected to file an answer to the purchaser's charges by July 31. Their attorney, Theodore S. Bloom, said the government probably will ask for a dismissal of the case.
This unusual lawsuit claims that the HUD office, along with the state land sales regulatory agencies in Washington and Oregon, were "negligent and failed to perform their duties" by not properly reviewing the disclosure documents handed out by Water Front Recreation Inc. for lots at the Northwood subdivision in Skamania County, Wash. The lawsuit also charges that the federal and state agencies permitted Water Front Recreation to distribute a property report containing "false and untrue" representations about the use of the leased lots and the hazards of Mount St. Helens, located in Washington.
The volcano erupted May 18, 1980, and periodically vents volcanic ash into the air.
Bloom said the HUD office and the state agencies "not only failed badly, but entirely" in doing their jobs. The purchasers are seeking $10 million in damages and the right to cancel their leases because they are unable to use the recreational facilities or gain access to their property. According to Bloom, the federal land sales agency should have sought information about the dangers of Mount St. Helens from the U.S. Geological Survey, which released a report in 1969 predicting an eruption by 2025. He added that Washington and Oregon compounded the problem by "passing the buck" and accepting the land sales office documents as complete.
However, Bloom does not completely blame Water Front Recreation for failing to disclose the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which the lawsuit admits "was not a reasonably foreseeable event." The developer has offered some assistance to the purchasers, agreeing to reduce rents for a short period and to assist in the installation of a relay sound warning system for future eruptions. However, Bloom says the relief offered is not enough and that the group may seek more redress -- such as condemnatioan of the land and establishment of a national monument -- through Congress.