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Access to Whidbey's Greenbank beach may be cut off soon

Glen Russell stands next to a wall being built by the Montgomery family near the beach access by Greenbank Farm. Russell is worried the Montgomerys are encroaching on the county road that leads to the beach. County officials asked the Montgomerys to stop building the wall, but they refused. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Glen Russell stands next to a wall being built by the Montgomery family near the beach access by Greenbank Farm. Russell is worried the Montgomerys are encroaching on the county road that leads to the beach. County officials asked the Montgomerys to stop building the wall, but they refused.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

South Enders are in danger of losing a historic beach access in Greenbank.

Glen Russell, a Greenbank resident for 35 years, is fighting to stop construction of a brick-and-concrete wall that a couple from Medina are building near their new home on Wonn Road.

The problem is that the wall at the end of the public road will block access to the beach.

“It’ll be a road to nowhere. It’s serving as a driveway for the Montgomerys supported by the taxpayers,” Russell said.

Russell said the property owners, Bruce and Joane Montgomery, have blocked off an access that has been in constant public use since the first settlement of Greenbank.

“It looks like something straight out of Berlin,” he said.

“I think it’s built to intimidate.”

Repeated calls to the

Mongomery home Friday went unanswered.

Russell has spent countless hours researching the county road. The Island County Shoreline Access Study identifies the site as county-owned public access, he said.

So do a number of other county documents.

A memorandum from the Island County Prosecutor’s Office from 1973 states that public access should be allowed on a portion of the tidelands at the end of the road because the tidelands are county-owned. An easement was given to an adjacent portion of the tidelands for beach access for residents in the area.

The county claimed part of the tidelands after the death of the original owner, James Platt.

However, the heirs sold the county portion to a new owner, Maurice Kirkpatrick, in the 1970s, Russell said. And the ownership problem went undetected for years.

“Problem is the county has been taxing them for the land all these years,” Russell said, adding that he was still researching the matter.

The public access issue has cropped up repeatedly in the past, beginning with Kirkpatrick, Russell said.

“Along comes Kirkpatrick who puts a chain across the road and puts a trailer on the lot,” Russell recalled.

“That kept nobody out even though he was a pretty ugly character.”

At that time, the county was hit with complaints and county employees investigated an encroachment issue, as Kirkpatrick had built a drainfield on the tidelands, according to public county records.

The Montgomerys purchased property adjacent to the south boundary of Wonn Road in 2006, according to information from the Island County Assessor’s Office.

Russell said they presently own all property bordering the road. The couple is currently building a new home on one of the parcels.

“They now claim ownership of the tidelands fronting Wonn Road and the right to exclude their neighbors and the public from the beach,” he said.

Russell filed two complaints with the county against the Montgomerys last week; one about the wall and one because he believes that the legal description given for the location of the new home is actually the description of a neighboring short plat.

County Planning Director Jeff Tate said the county is investigating.

Tate said that while the new wall will block the traditional access, people can go around it.

“You can walk around the wall. Is it less convenient? Yes. Is the issue of blocking public access a concern to us? Absolutely,” he added.

Tate said the county has issued a permit for the construction of the home, and added that the Montgomerys don’t need a permit for the wall because it is less than four feet high.

The questionable issue that remains is the location of the wall.

“We’ve been able to determine that it’s not on public land,” Tate said. “We were not able to determine the question of whether it is on tideland.”

In addition, the old documents and less-than-perfect record-keeping long ago make the task of sorting out the issue more difficult.

“There are conflicting legal descriptions,” Tate said.

“The owner has documentation that shows it’s his. Mr. Russell has found documentation that shows it’s public,” he added.

“It’s not a matter of a couple of pieces of paper and a survey,” Tate said. “It’s going back 40 years.”

The planning department has to evaluate the legality of old deeds and easements that were granted at various times in history.

The county’s planning office will need about two weeks to sort through the old documents and evaluate the situation, he said. And they are not doing it alone.

“We’ve asked the legal minds over at the prosecutor’s office to take a look,” Tate said.

In the meantime, Tate said the county has asked the Montgomerys to hold off on the construction of the wall.

“We’ve asked him to stop; pause until we know more,” Tate said. “We also told him, he has to tear it down if it turns out to be illegal. But we’re not there yet.”

However, the county’s request was to no avail.

Workers were busy Thursday putting a rock face on the wall, which was four concrete blocks high by the afternoon.

And on Friday morning, Russell was asked to leave by Joane Montgomery as he stood on the public road.

“She was throwing me out. She said, ‘You’re not welcome here,’” he recalled.

Russell said the inconsistencies in the documentation may be a historically-grown mess, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the county would try to cover it up. He said he was sent from one county department to the other in search of answers.

He also said Tate and the planning department have been slow in response to his inquiries.

“This guy bought the property at 794 Wonn Road two years ago and he’s building a wall across the road to keep people out,” Russell said.

“I’ve contacted the county but they seem to want to sweep it under the rug. People have been using this to get to the water for well over 30 years and it’s a complicated situation,” he said.

Russell, who has extensively reviewed files related to the property, said recorded conflicts date back to the early 1970’s when that lot was short-platted and a mobile home was moved onto the tidelands east of the lot. Residents of the Greenbank community have continued to use this historic public access in spite of deceptive signs and threats, he said.

Other neighbors are aware of the issue as well.

Thom Gunn, a Greenbank resident for roughly 30 years, said the beach access issue has been tricky for decades.

“This has always been a cloudy dispute. There are people who think the access to the beach is public and the property owners always think it’s theirs,” he said. “It’s been going on as long as I’ve been here.”

“Both sides are very good people,” he added.

Gunn said it’s time for the county to sort things out.

“I hope they come up with a compromise both sides can live with,” he said.

Russell said the access has been a link to the beach since the first settlers came to the island.

Wonn Road used to be named Greenbank Road because it was the only road in Greenbank, Russell said.

It ran from the old Greenbank Wharf and Landing west to the Greenbank Farm and

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