Helicopter magnate and South Whidbey property owner Frank Robinson is planning to donate nearly 300 feet of shoreline in Mutiny Bay to the public, Island County officials have confirmed.
Public Works Director Bill Oakes met with the Island County commissioners last week and briefed the board on ongoing discussions with the Robinson family about the potential beachfront land donation.
Oakes said Robinson considered giving the property to the county three years ago but those talks never materialized. His declining health, however, has brought the discussion back to the forefront.
Although it’s not yet clear which public agency the shoreline property would be donated too — several are possible candidates — Oakes said this was an opportunity that should not be ignored.
“Public beach access is so limited in Island County, it’s a high priority of the parks plan,” Oakes said.
Robinson is the founder of the Robinson Helicopter Company, which manufactures the highly successful R22 and R44. It is one of the worlds leading manufacturers of civil helicopters, having produced 10,000 aircraft as of this past November, according to the company’s website.
Robinson, who lives in London, England, could not be reached for comment.
The property to be donated is located along Robinson Road just south of the Mutiny Bay boat launch, which is jointly owned by the county, 75 percent, and the Port of South Whidbey, 25 percent.
At just over an acre in size, the property would add 291 feet of shoreline to the approximately 60 feet already under public ownership at the boat launch. The site is already utilized by the public, especially fishermen.
According to Oakes, the Robinson family does have a few conditions. The property can only be used as a public, the park’s name must include the Robinson family name, and the adjacent boat launch must be maintained and remain in public ownership.
While public beaches and beach accesses on Whidbey Island are rare and considered by many to be precious real estate, the county parks department is struggling to maintain what it has.
In fact, resources are so tight that the county is trying to pass off stewardship or ownership of some properties to other public agencies, such as South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.
Oakes told the board the hope was to do the same here but the parks district has declined to take on the property.
Oakes is now pinning his hopes on the port.
Although the port’s board was expected to discuss the matter at a special meeting Tuesday evening, which was after deadline and could not be reported on for this story, Commissioner and board president Curt Gordon said Monday he is wary of accepting property that may not fit with the port’s goals.
Beach access is important but any property taken on should also have applications as an economic driver, such as the ability for fishermen to put their boats in the water at the boat ramp.
“We don’t want to take on parks just for the sake of parks,” said Gordon, adding that administrative costs are also a concern.
“You can only manage what you can pay for and we have a lot on our plate right now,” he said.
Fellow Commissioner Dennis Gregoire said administrative costs are a concern to him as well, but he argued that beach access is a primary objective of port districts. He strongly supports accepting the property, calling it an “incredible opportunity,” but is also hoping for some type of partnership with the county.
“The ideal way to do it is collaboratively,” Gregoire said.
Some of the same financial concerns of management costs associated with taking on additional public property was brought up during last weeks meeting with Oakes and the Island County commissioners.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson questioned the wisdom of accepting more land when the county is struggling just to maintain what it has.
“I’m just saying the obvious, that there is a concern about any added land to the parks department when we have no idea how to fund what we have now,” she said.
Oakes said the costs were minimal; there is no trash pick up at the property and the portable toilet is there on a seasonal basis. Other than some new signage, nothing would change under public ownership, he said.
Emerson expressed strong doubts.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” she said.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson encouraged Emerson to visit the property, describing it as “rugged” and undeveloped. Seeing it in person would make it clear that there is little to maintain, she said.
Oakes told Emerson that while he hopes to strike an agreement with the port, he does not want to miss the opportunity for additional public beach access.
“If it comes down to the county or nothing, I’m recommending that we take it,” he said.
Price Johnson and Commissioner Angie Homola voiced agreement.
“I know that public beach access is a high priority for this community,” Price Johnson said. “I’m in favor of it.”
“I would be supportive of additional access to the beach for the public in every opportunity we have; there are so few of them,” Homola said.