Dispute over noise goes to the videotape in Washougal

Construction firm, Humane Society filming one another

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

WASHOUGAL — Double-up those leashes. A dogfight in a Washougal industrial park has reached the breaking point.

The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society says the owner of a neighboring company, Northwest Underwater Construction, has been harassing its animals and volunteers as part of an ongoing noise dispute. The two entities are located within the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park.

Last fall, the neighbors traded accusations about noise levels at the shelter: The construction company alleged that the constant barking emanating from the shelter's kennels was a nuisance; the no-kill shelter countered that a high-pitched siren the company installed atop a fence separating the properties, meant to quell the barks, disturbed the dogs.

Washougal finally intervened, spending $8,000 to build a sound-dampening wall between the properties. The city owns the Humane Society's property and leases it to the shelter for $1 a year.

In the ensuing months, the barks haven't been silenced. Neither has the dispute. The owner of Northwest Underwater Construction, Jesse Hutton, routinely drives his Humvee across the street from the shelter so he can videotape the kennel.

"It's escalated now to the point that every morning, he comes out and videotapes us," said Tamara Scharfenkamp, director of the Humane Society. "Why does he even come out to videotape us? There are no dogs barking."

The shelter's volunteers, mainly women, feel threatened by Hutton's actions. They've complained to the police department but were told there was nothing they could do because it's a public street. The shelter has operated in the same industrial area for the past 18 years without incident, Scharfenkamp said.

Hutton said he's frustrated with the entire situation. The volunteers who work at the shelter make little effort to quiet the dogs, he said. Sometimes, it sounds as if two dogs are fighting.

He doesn't dispute that he's been videotaping the kennel. He's done so on the advice of his company's attorney, who told him to document instances of loud, sustained barking.

Scharfenkamp has returned the favor by videotaping Hutton as he records the kennel.

Hutton says the situation has escalated ever since the city installed the sound-dampening barrier in October.

"The noise was better for about a month," Hutton said. "But then it seemed like the sound-proofing was license to allow the volunteers to stick dogs next to each other so they could bark all day."

In a November email to the shelter, after the city installed the fence, Hutton wrote that he'd continue to voice his frustration with the situation, writing that the shelter's complaints to his company would fall on deaf ears. "I own one hundred percent of the company, all locations," Hutton wrote in the email. "Sorry — no one can fire me."

Still, the shelter has taken steps to measure the decibel levels coming from its kennel. An acoustics expert determined the loudest sustained dog barks created noise comparable to a heavy truck driving by 15 meters away, ratcheting up to the noise a jackhammer makes.

Kathy James, a shelter volunteer, said the incidents of videotaping make her feel uncomfortable. She's volunteered at the shelter since January, and in that time she's seen Hutton shoot video of the Humane Society three or four times. She finds it threatening.

"I don't want anyone out there videotaping me," James said. "I don't know what he's doing."

City Councilor Brent Boger visited the shelter Friday to learn more about the situation. Boger, the assistant city attorney for Vancouver, said he thought it was time for someone from the city to intervene.

Nonetheless, it could be a civil matter that's taken to court. He said it was unclear whether the two sides looked like they would pursue legal action against each other.

What is clear, Boger said, is that it is "a little unusual for someone to camp outside and videotape someone."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com

View a video on the feud on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.