Breaking the seal? You could soon be breaking a law

CARNATION, Wash. -- Deep in the middle of Mother Nature's heartland, occasionally, Mother Nature calls.

Michael Guttsen gets it. The Carnation resident lives in the shadow of an organic farm and a horse stable and knows that occasionally a farmer might gotta - well, go.

What he doesn't get, however, is how his backyard suddenly became a public port-a-potty.

"A couple of ladies thought it was private enough that they could just drop trou," Guttsen said, remembering one day back in June. "It was a nightmare."

Guttsen wasn't the only one who noticed - or complained. King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert says her office got dozens of complaints after two recent events in rural King County where participants used people's lawns and sidewalks as makeshift toilets.

"When you get large groups of people and they feel they don't need to be polite and where they urinate or defecate, it becomes a public health issue," Lambert said. "I said to the sheriff: 'Why are you not enforcing it?' and he said to me, 'Because there is no law to enforce.'"

Seventeen municipalities in King County have some sort of law on the books that make it illegal to use the bathroom in public, Lambert said. There is no ordinance that governs the issue in unincorporated King County, so she wrote one.

The ordinance would hit first-time offenders with a civil fine of up to $250. A second incident could result in misdemeanor charges.

"Absolutely (it is) a quality of life issue," Lambert added. " I believe urinating on their lawns and defecating on their lawns is showing disrespect, whether they're a tuber, a bike rider, a hiker, they need to know that's not appropriate."

Guttsen, who has called Carnation home for four years, says a recent bike ride brought thousands of cyclists to the area - and the problem to light.

"Mayhem ensued," Guttsen said. "I caught two women who actually pulled up into the driveway and went behind the barn, thinking that nobody could see them, and they dropped their pants. It was pretty rude and it was almost this self-righteous attitude of, 'Well, where else are we going to go?'"

"By the end of the day, I'd been called a redneck, hillbilly, several things in languages I didn't understand," he said of the experience.

The Cascade Bicycle Club, which sponsored the June 'Flying Wheels' event, says that while most cyclists were well-behaved, the group did receive some complaints.

"We did know that there was some completely unacceptable behavior," said M.J. Kelly, spokeswoman for the group. "There are thousands of people riding it and sometimes people don't behave."

Kelly says the group, who provides rest stops for cyclists on the race, also attended a recent council meeting to listen to community concerns, in addition to putting out a message to its members after the race.

"Folks are concerned when there is bad behavior because it tarnishes our reputation," she added.

The county council takes up the issue again on September 10.

"I hope it never has to be enforced but I think we need to have a tool in the tool box," Lambert added, "because we have had situations where it has been obnoxious."