Port commissioners change plan to remove Possession Point property

Port of South Whidbey commissioners took the first step in getting rid of a piece of property on Possession Point where AT&T wants to erect a cell phone tower.

On a unanimous 3-0 vote Wednesday, commissioners voted to change the port’s comprehensive scheme — the plan that lays out projects through the year 2013 — to remove a section that mentioned future improvements to the land that includes the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.

The move was not welcomed by some. Possession Point residents who live near the port property bitterly complained that the port’s amendment of the plan, and eventual sale of the property, was a move to duck responsibility in preventing a controversial cell tower from being built.

But port commissioners repeatedly said the port should concentrate on economic development.

“Port districts aren’t supposed to be in the parks business,” said Port Commissioner Curt Gordon. “We should be divesting ourselves.”

“Our tax dollars aren’t supposed to go toward clearing trails,” he added.

Some in the audience wondered why the port would want to sell half of its property at Possession Point, but others agreed with port officials.

“I would say hang on to the waterfront and divest yourself of the upper trailhead,” Mikkel Hustad said.

Clyde Monma, however, criticized port officials for making an easy political choice. The port property has been looked at by AT&T as a possible site for a 140-foot cell-phone tower, but homeowners nearby want to preserve the parcel’s popular hiking trail and natural surroundings.

“If you want to divest ... divest the whole 27 acres. It’s ridiculous to divide it in half,” Monma said.

He said they wanted to pass the decision on to someone else and let them catch the flak if the land is not eventually taken over by a parks entity or land trust and becomes home to a cell phone tower instead.

“You’re just saying, ‘The hell with it.’ You’re not willing to bite the bullet and say yes or no. Which I think is a cowardly act,” he said.

“You’re just interested in doing it because it’s easy,” Monma added. “And I think that’s just terrible. So shame on you.”

Two of the three port commissioners said they had talked to parks officials to see if there was interest in acquiring the land from the port, but the discussion went nowhere.

Last December, AT&T proposed to lease a part of the upper portion of the property from the port for the tower. The tower would be enclosed by a 40-foot by 40-foot cedar fence and painted to match nearby trees. Less than 30 feet of the tower would be above the tree line, according to an AT&T representative.

Local fire officials and other emergency responders have endorsed the project as a way to improve emergency communications on South Whidbey.

At the close of Monday’s public hearing, port commissioners said it was a choice between maintaining an upland park or focusing instead on economic development issues.

“I think your port needs to be about economic development,” Gordon told the small audience at the meeting.

“The port district should not be in the business of upland parks, period,” added Port Commissioner Chris Jerome. “This is just not in the purview of the port.”

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