As a county resident living on high bank property in the Greenbank area, I have been following the events regarding Wonn Road very closely. Over the years I have often relied on the public access at Wonn Road.
I remember very well when, in 2008, the Montgomerys built their wall across the headland of Wonn Road, a piece of county land, and the fury that we residents all felt. Our only public access to the beach had been taken away from us. But then, just one year later, the county took the Montgomerys on, telling them that the wall had to come down. When the Montgomerys refused, the county sued the Montgomerys. The county’s reputation for inaction was being turned on its head. Yahoo, we all said. Three cheers for the county!
I was likewise pleased when the county decided not to accept the settlement with the Montgomerys in January 2016. The effort to keep our public access public was going ahead. The wall would come down, and the county would keep the land that belonged to the county. A partnership between the county and grass roots efforts of the citizens of Island County decided to fight the Montgomerys in court. The citizens of Island County were behind the county’s efforts as shown by the online and in-person petitions presented to the commissioners.
This strong stance by the county flew in the face of the cynicism that some of us have felt regarding the inaction of local government. And the fact that our own local government was working with the grass roots efforts of Island County citizens was so much the better.
But then this fall/winter these efforts seem to have fizzled, and now I have not seen anything further in the papers. Court action is presumably no longer being considered, and the citizens of Island County are without information regarding the wall and the county land at Wonn Road.
Some troubling information has surfaced, however. The county is seeking a settlement with the Montgomerys that does not require that the Montgomerys remove the entire wall. Furthermore, the county is intending to give the Montgomerys county land. These two concessions are in exchange for what was already a public access to the beach, provided by Island County to its citizens.
I urge the commissioners to reconsider and not agree to this settlement with the Montgomerys regarding Wonn Road. Leaving some of the highly symbolic wall in place would serve as an ugly reminder of the county’s settling with these rich, powerful, part-time residents of Island County. Likewise, just giving away county land, rather than fighting to keep it, sets a terrible precedent for future land disputes involving county land.