The county assessor's office has initiated foreclosure process on the propertyAdding an almost desperate element to an already pitiful scene, the floor of a vacant building on Commercial Street has become littered with the carcasses of dead pigeons.
And despite a good deal of public anger, it would appear that the pigeons will continue to fly into the building. Unable to find their way out, they die.
The city won't impose itself onto private property to clean up the dead birds and the county and state health divisions don't consider it a sufficient health risk for them to intervene.
Making matters even more difficult is the fact that the building in the 900 block of Commercial next door to Astoria Florists, is owned by the Flavel family, whose members own a few other buildings in Astoria all in arrears and various states of disrepair.
With a foreclosure process about halfway completed, the building may get a new owner who will clean it out and repair the roof. Those who are involved with the building say that appears to be the best chance to stop the pigeons from getting inside the empty store.
Sharnelle Fee, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Olney, said she's received several calls from people hoping she can do something to help the birds.
She has seen dead pigeons on the floor and some still alive perched in the upper regions of the Commercial Street building. "The whole situation is bad," she said.
Fee said the birds appear to get into the building through holes in the roof but then can't get out. She said she also thinks they're getting trapped in the building's back room as well.
While she said she would do something if she could, Fee said she is not about to break the law and trespass.
And city officials will not take drastic action about the issue.
Even though city code does allow the city to start an abatement process against a building owner that doesn't clean up a nuisance, City Manager Dan Bartlett said he likely won't initiate that process because the city would rather solve the building's long-term problem.
"We would love to get the building in the hands of some responsible owners," he said.
Bartlett said the city is working with the representatives of lien holders and believes it would be cleaned up more quickly if it can just change hands.
And, he added, beginning an abatement process could do more damage than good.
"We'd hate to stir up the building owners when there's movement being made on solving the long-term problem," he said.
As "unsightly" and "sad" as dying pigeons in an abandoned building may be, Bartlett said he understands there to be no serious health risk because people can not be directly exposed to the dead birds.
Lynn Cook, nursing supervisor for Clatsop County Health and Human Services, said she and the state's health specialist are aware of the birds and their unfortunate demise.
But she said even though there is "a potential health threat," pigeon carcasses do not fall under the jurisdiction of the county department that handles only about 20 communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.
The Flavel family did not return a phone call requesting comments.
The county's assessor office has already initiated a foreclosure process on the property. Suzanne Johnson, the chief deputy assessor, said as of Monday the Flavels owe $51,896 in back taxes on three properties in Astoria and more in liens.
Johnson said the county will complete the foreclosure process in November 2004, but added that any of the lien holders could pay off the taxes before then and take the buildings.
"We've been getting lots of calls about the pigeons," she said. "We're obviously concerned."
The county does have a new power from an ordinance passed in June to initiate an accelerated foreclosure process for buildings that pose a risk to the community or is "subjected to waste and abandonment."
And while she said "it's very obvious to anyone (the building) is very wasted and abandoned," the county has not initiated the accelerated process with the pigeon property on Commercial. She said that's because county staff decided to just let the standard foreclosure process run its course and try and work with lien holders.