Staff photo/Hayley Day
                                A car drives past Perry Place through the Tucker Avenue construction.

Staff photo/Hayley Day A car drives past Perry Place through the Tucker Avenue construction.

Local attorney sues Town of Friday Harbor, staff over land dispute

According to island history, if you mess with someone’s pig there could be war.

Carla Higginson alleges the town is illegally taking part of her Tucker Avenue property to add infrastructure, like a public sidewalk, which would infringe on the privacy of those living there.

That includes her two potbelly pigs.

Unlike the Pig War of 1859, which erupted after a swine was killed over disputed land, the local attorney is hoping to resolve her property conflict in court. Higginson filed a lawsuit on June 11 against the Town of Friday Harbor, along with its administrator Duncan Wilson, the companies involved in the construction and two crew members.

The town staff maintains construction is occurring on the easement that belongs to the municipality, but Higginson wants work on her alleged land to stop and compensation for damages.

“They are trying to bulldoze me and my property,” said Higginson about the town staff.

Wilson, who has worked for the town for six years, said he has never been sued over town matters and has never seen a lawsuit like this, or a request for a restraining order, against the town and its staff.

“This is the first time this has happened since I’ve been here,” he said.

Higginson was granted a temporary restraining order against Wilson, the town and construction crew which prevented staff from continuing the project around the property in question for about 11 days. The order was not extended at a June 22 hearing.

The town council passed a motion, according to Wilson, to defend him during court for the actions he took as a town employee.

Higginson said she is suing Wilson, individually, because he knowingly “violated [her] constitutional rights” by not verifying if the property legally belonged to the town before construction began.

However, Wilson said that a company, hired by the town, negotiated with residents, including Higginson, “over direct impacts” to their property before the project started. These negotiations included how to replace plants that may be moved by the construction crew. Higginson said her items have already been removed, including a tree planted by her step-son on 1988’s Arbor Day.

If she wins, Higginson said Wilson may have to pay restitution out of his own pockets.

Last February, town staff started construction on Tucker Avenue, which includes resurfacing the street, as well as adding a new sidewalk; water and sewer lines; and shared lanes for cyclists and drivers. Wilson said residents affected by the Tucker Avenue construction were notified of the plans over a year ago through a letter from town staff.

Higginson argues that the property on the corner of Tucker Avenue and Perry Place belongs to her, and not the town, thanks to her squatter’s rights and a 19th-century state law.

Higginson said she has been using that property for roughly 30 years, and since the town staff never claimed it, the land is legally hers.

Plus, Higginson said that in 1894, 15 feet of land, imparted by the original property owners, was never used for a public road. That means the rights revert to her, the property owner, according to the Washington state law at that time, Higginson explained.

Higginson doesn’t live on the property, but her ex-husband and their potbelly pigs do. She said she is trying to protect her ex’s privacy and that he “has the right to live there in peace.” Plus, public infrastructure like a sidewalk would be too close to her pigs who roam the yard.

Higginson said she expects a court date will be set in the next month and a trial could begin in about six months in San Juan County Superior Court.

The Pig War ended without a battle, but only time will tell if this conflict ends as peacefully.