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Port moves toward sale of upland park property

The Port of South Whidbey is moving closer to selling a portion of its upper park property at Possession Point.

The property has been eyed by AT&T as a possible site for a 140-foot cell-phone tower. Nearby residents, however, want to preserve the parcel’s popular hiking trail and natural surroundings.

Port commissioners have scheduled a public hearing next week to delete language in the port’s comprehensive scheme that lists potential improvements to the parcel. The comprehensive scheme is the port’s formal plan of action through 2013.

The public hearing on the proposed deletion will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church meeting room, 6309 Wilson Place in Clinton.

The section of the plan the commissioners propose to eliminate reads: “Enhance access to the upper trailhead of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail; include provisions for parking and/or water for hikers.”

The property, which rises from sea level to more than 400 feet, was bequeathed to the port in 1985.

Port commissioners, however, say that by state law public port districts must concentrate on waterfront and adjacent land.

“I wouldn’t say we’re in violation, but I would say it’s marginal,” said Port Commissioner Curt Gordon. “It’s not something we need to be spending money on.”

“We’re all in agreement that the port district has been focused too much on parks, and not enough on economic development,” Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said.

“We’re not opposed to the park,” added Port Commissioner Chris Jerome. “We’re opposed to the port operating it.”

The commissioners say they want to divide the property into two parts, each larger than 10 acres, then declare the upper portion surplus and try to sell it. The port would retain the lower portion of the property, which includes water lines and other infrastructure servicing Possession Beach.

Port manager Ed Field said an appraisal would be made on the property after the public hearing process is complete. The latest Island County assessment on the property was $135,000.

AT&T proposed last December to lease a part of the upper portion of the property.

The company said the proposed tower would provide increased phone coverage throughout South Whidbey and improve wireless and emergency 911 phone reception and high-speed broadband Internet service.

AT&T officials told the port that the tower’s emissions would be well below the standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. Local law enforcement and fire officials have endorsed the tower as a way to improve emergency communications.

The company is continuing its permit process, but hasn’t approached the port about buying the property instead of leasing it.

“We haven’t had that discussion,” Tapert said.

The proposed site for the tower is about 35 feet from the Dorothy Cleveland Trail, a popular recreation area which starts at the Possession Point waterfront.

Some nearby homeowners object to the tower, saying that it would be an eyesore and a possible health hazard. They also say recreational use of the park was guaranteed by the 1985 estate bequest.

State open-space officials, however, ruled that the land is not “encumbered,” and the port is free to approve the tower or sell the land.

Possession Point homeowner Marcia Monma, who with her husband Clyde and other residents of the area help to maintain the trail and are opposed to a cell-phone tower, said the property is too steep for building, and is best preserved as a park.

She said her group is working with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to preserve the property for public recreation through a conservation easement.

Monma said there are more than 3,900 feet of trails in the port property, more than 2,200 feet in the parcel the commissioners want to surplus.

“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “It’s a really wonderful trail.”

Field said that if the port sells the upper portion of the property, the port could attach an easement provision to the sale guaranteeing recreational use of the trail.

Monma would like that.

“It would just go on like it has been, and nobody would know the difference,” she said.

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