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Nighttime vandals burst waterfall owner's bubble

POULSBO — In designing a waterfall last year, Bill Austin envisioned creating a beautiful entrance to the city.

He pictured cheering up motorists.

He thought he’d give something back to the city that means so much to him.

He even figured he’d wake to find it soaped by a few mischievous souls once or twice.

But now, it’s getting ridiculous.

Austin’s waterfall near the corner of Lindvig and Bond Roads was soaped this week by unknown assailants. It makes the 15th time since the feature was officially switched on in early 2003 that it’s been tampered with — an average of about once every 40 days.

“When you do something like this, you have to weigh the ups and the downs, the ins and the outs, the yin and the yang,” Austin said this week of the waterfall. “I knew this would happen but I didn’t know it would happen this much.”

Austin, has made a name for himself in community activism since he first moved to Poulsbo in the 1960s. He built the Kvelstad Pavilion, as well as the downtown senior center and has added signs and other decorative touches to many downtown buildings. More recently, he led the charge to add a planted area, which was paid for by downtown merchants, and a smaller waterfall, which was paid for by Craig and Sally Kvam, to the area in front of Poulsbo Compounding Pharmacy.

The waterfall, for which construction began in January 2003, sits on Austin’s personal property. The area was built through community donations and out-of-pocket expenses from Austin.

Twice, the waterfall has had dye added to it and 13 times, the soap suds was the culprit. Austin said in almost every soaping, Dawn was used and the containers discarded in the nearby landscaping. All recovered containers have been turned over to Poulsbo Police. Austin also believes that the damage has been made by more than one person or group and that both youth and adults have been involved.

Austin said what many people may not realize is the danger and costs associated with the prank. He said each clean up costs him time and materials totalling about $1,000. If that is the case, the “joke” becomes a Class C Felony, punishable by as much as five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

“I will catch them eventually,” Austin commented. “They will be caught and I will take them to court.”

If the damage amount were lower, Sgt. Bill Playter of the Poulsbo Police Department said that soaping the fountain could be a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by as many as 90 days in jail. But Austin said that the soap suds sometimes billows out of the waterfall at mammoth proportions and blow across Lindvig, creating a visual hazard for traffic. Playter said that if a vandal’s work caused a traffic accident on that stretch, they could get a stiffer penalty.

“Any information we have on the activity will be forwarded to the prosecutor for determination of charges,” Playter said.

Besides being against the law, Austin said the soap suds is dangerous for many of the plantings surrounding the waterfall. None of them have been killed but he said some, like the Japanese maples, have been damaged. Also, runoff from the overflowing waterfall heads straight to nearby storm drains and into Liberty Bay.

Austin is hoping that the person or people responsible for the vandalism will move on to other ways to amuse themselves. He is working with police and is hoping to catch some of them in the act. But the good news for those law-abiding citizens is that Austin said a few bad apples aren’t going to spoil the public amenity — he’s going to keep the waterfall going.

“You know there are kids out there that find this funny or some brain-dead people who do this,” Austin commented. “It bothers me but I try not to get angry about it anymore.”

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