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Clinton beach effort suffers setback from public officials

"Public ownership of waterfront property next to the Clinton ferry dock seems to be an idea that's sinking like a waterlogged raft.Earlier this year more than 700 citizens signed a petition asking that a public agency purchase the Kenmir property north of the ferry dock. It includes the old Admiral's Mistress restaurant building, a small parking area and a short strip of sandy beach.Supporters hoped either Island County or the Port of South Whidbey would take the lead in acquiring the property for a small park. Clinton residents' only public beach access disappeared when the ferry dock was expanded last year.At last Wednesday's Port of South Whidbey meeting, two of the three commissioners expressed strong reservations about the Kenmir property.Jim Hawley said the port could play a role, but should not take the lead in acquiring park property. We're not per se in the park business, he said. We sure as heck can't commit ourselves to buying the property.Commissioner Gene Sears also voiced misgivings. It's going to be way too expensive, he said. Recent reports have put the asking price at $1.4 million, and the assessed valuation at $400,000.The space is too small and congested. It doesn't have the ingredients to be a halfway decent park, Sears said. He said the Port should use its money to improve its existing facilities.Commissioner Jan Smith was more supportive, but opined that the state should be involved. We need to put some pressure on the state, she said.In the past, however, State Ferry and Department of Transportation officials have bypassed chances to purchase the property, and have raised strong safety concerns about attracting people to an area so close to ferry traffic.The Clinton Community Forum group last month asked the Port to hire Phil Pearl to lead an effort to acquire the Kenmir property. As an employee of the Trust for Public Lands in the early 1990s, Pearl was instrumental in public acquisition of the Double Bluff property. Since then, he has started his own business, Open Space Resources, and moved to Langley.The Port commissioners chose not to hire Pearl, but he's watched the situation with the Kenmir property closely. On Monday, he was pessimistic about public acquisition.We still think it's a good site, Pearl said. But enough public officials are against it that we'll regroup. We're looking at other sites, other options. He said Island County officials share the Port's views of the property, and he doubts the state would get involved.One of Pearl's theories is that the state doesn't want a public park next to the ferry dock because it would make expanding dock facilities more difficult. It's easier to condemn private property, he said.Myrna Orr Twomey, a volunteer with the Clinton Community Forum, said Clinton residents will continue to pursue a public beach in the community. Her grandfather, Thomas Orr, in 1938 donated property where the ferry dock is now located to the county for a public beach. The county later gave it or sold it to the state, but Twomey said oldtimers remember the promise to provide a public beach. We feel that we're owed, she said. Thomas Orr's intention was a public beach for the people of Clinton. "

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