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Fires, camps in U.S. 2 bypass belt in Monroe shake agencies to act

MONROE — Encampments and man-made brush fires in a stretch of greenbelt skirting the city's north has prompted a coordinated cleanup plan that could come into action as soon as this fall.
The space is the eventual U.S. 2 bypass. WSDOT owns the right of way. Subdivision homes and businesses border the greenbelt.
People illegally camp in the hills, but officials believe the camp users appear to be transient versus permanent.
The bypass is also used recreationally. People walk the woods. A not-so-secret unofficial mountain bike jump area has existed for years north of Walmart, complete with five Google reviews.
Local agencies contacted WSDOT July 20 to discuss the section from 191st Avenue SE to Chain Lake Road.
A few days later, high-level members of WSDOT, the city, Monroe Police and Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue walked the land to do a safety assessment.
Officials on the walkthrough saw two or three tents and checked each for anyone inside. Nobody was in any of them, city administrator Deborah Knight said.
Two days later, though, somebody must have come back. A fire started July 27 at one of the tents they’d visited during their walk.
Firefighters extinguished two fires in the bypass during June, as well as that one in July, Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue spokesman Peter Mongillo said, plus they regularly respond to medical calls. Authorities think the fires start accidentally.
An outline schedule WSDOT produced shows the end of September as when the agency would like to have its cost estimates in hand for removing debris, which would include campsites.
WSDOT spokesman James Poling emphasized in an interview that the agency “does not do sweeps,” and its employees do not remove people. Instead, it uses a coordinated, four-step cleanup process that leans on local agencies for help.
The city sends social workers weekly to the bypass, Knight said. The Police Department’s Outreach Team regularly visits. Everyone is offered resources to get out of homelessness. Trespassing stubborn people has been done in the past. Those trespassed had been warned.
“If they want housing we can get them into housing,” Knight said. Knight pointed out Monroe has been addressing homelessness on a citywide level by working with social services partners to add housing options. Two efforts that opened this year in Monroe are a temporary housing center along W. Main Street and St. Vincent de Paul’s safe car-camping space for homeless families.
“Monroe is one of hundreds if not thousands of communities trying to address homelessness,” Knight said.
The first two steps of WSDOT’s four-step cleanup process involve offering unhoused people relocation and storing their belongings, Poling laid out.
WSDOT sends contractor crews to restore the property after there are no more unhoused people.
The agencies anticipate meeting again soon.
The fire department now is sending alerts to police and city officials anytime they respond to the area, Mongillo said.
Last September, a smoky brush fire burned two acres north of Walmart along Chain Lake Road. The tree canopy is a slight ally when dealing with any fire here: It keeps moisture in close to the ground, Mongillo said.
More exact police or fire call data was not immediately available because the bypass lacks a specific call address.
The bypass was conceived in the late 1960s. Although dormant now, the idea was to extend state Route 522 about a mile north to a bypass highway; the first phase of this bypass would run along north Monroe from Chain Lake Road eastward before reconnecting to U.S. 2 just east of city limits.



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