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Port moves forward on sale of Dorothy Cleveland Trail

Port Commissioner Curt Gordon listens to public testimony before Wednesday
Port Commissioner Curt Gordon listens to public testimony before Wednesday's vote on a purchase offer on the Dorothy Cleveland Trail property.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

CLINTON — Port of South Whidbey commissioners are moving forward with the controversial sale of a 14-acre property near Possession Point that contains the uppermost portion of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.
At a special meeting Wednesday, port officials voted to counter a $240,000 offer from a prospective buyer of the property, with the commissioners hoping to get a protective easement from the purchaser that would cover the entire length of the trail.

The potential buyer, who was not identified by port officials, wants to build a home on the park property and had offered to give a partial easement that would protect the popular trail. The easement that was offered, however, did not include the uppermost loop on the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.

Port officials reviewed two offers on the property. A second offer for $145,000 was made by Independent Towers Holding LLC, and that potential buyer indicated their offer was contingent on receiving "all permits and entitlements for subdivision and and permitting of a communications tower."

Independent Towers is based in Latham, N.Y. and has been developing wireless communications infrastructure in the United States since 2002, according to the company's website.

Port commissioners retreated to a closed-to-the-public executive session to discuss the purchase price of the property for 25 minutes before returning to vote on the offers. Both offers were set to expire on Friday.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to make a counteroffer to the first prospective buyer. Port Commissioners Geoff Tapert and Curt Gordon voted yes, Port Commissioner Chris Jerome voted no.

Port officials have drawn fire since late 2009 over the fate of the park property, after AT&T representatives sought permission to place a 140-foot cell-phone tower on the ridge above Possession Point, right next to the Dorothy Cleveland Trail. Commissioners later declared the property surplus, and it was listed for sale earlier this month for $235,000. Officials have said keeping an upland park meant for recreational uses under port district control runs counter to the port's mission of economic development.

Before the vote, port commissioners heard more than an hour of testimony from residents and others, most of them opposed to any sale of the park property that would lead to commercial development and the construction of a cell phone tower on the land.

Clinton resident Ed Jenkins said the sale would be a "travesty," and said he was circulating a petition to stop the port from selling the property. He also threatened to file a lawsuit against port commissioners for "breach of fiduciary responsibility."

Tom Cahill, president of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, told port commissioners the land trust continues to oppose the sale, and stressed the economic value that the property already provides to the port.

He warned the steeply sloped property was prone to landslides and should not be developed because it would hurt the health of wildlife and fish habitat nearby.

"Selling the steep, forested bluff property for development will adversely affect the natural systems that have made Possession Beach highly important for salmon recovery in Puget Sound," Cahill said.

The port purchased the Possession Park property in 1985.

"It made sense at that time," Cahill said. "It continued to make sense for the next 25 years. However, suddenly, this 14-acre property that is not costing the port any money and is in fact protecting a substantial government funded investment along the beach, is 'surplus,'" Cahill added.

"This surplus decision only happened after neighbors objected to a cell tower on the top of the ridge. We call on the port commissioners, as elected officials, to take a step back and realize that they are actually hurting the economic well-being of the Port of South Whidbey by selling this important and geologically unstable piece of property."

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