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Commissioners expected to make a decision Monday

Whidbey Island residents took shots at Island County’s new hunting rules — and each other — during a public hearing Monday on an ordinance that would restrict waterfowl hunting in Deer Lagoon. The new rules would also allow deer hunting in the Kettles Trail area, Goss Lakes Woods and on Camano Ridge.

Hunters and residents both voiced their opposition to a proposed ordinance that would allow hunting in the county-owned portion of Deer Lagoon.

Hunters opposed the 50-yard boundary that would ring the lagoon as being too restrictive, and nearby residents lobbied to completely ban hunting in the lagoon.

A crowd of about 130 people packed the Coupeville Recreation Hall for the hearing.

Another hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday on Camano Island at Utsalady Elementary School.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said this week that the commissioners expect to make a decision on the new rules Monday.

Hunters say the proposed ordinance is not fair, and many said public property purchases were made possible by the fees that sportsmen pay. People who live near hunting areas, however, have concerns about safety and the noise associated with the discharge of firearms.

Several residents wondered how the 50-yard setbacks would be measured and how the law would be enforced.

The crowd seemed about evenly split in numbers. On an applause meter, though, the hunters clearly won.

Several residents in the Deer Lagoon area referenced a letter from an attorney for Useless Bay Colony, which threatened the county with legal action if the new ordinance is adopted.

“I’ve been a hunter all my life, but I’ve only hunted in places where I was welcome,” said Jack Coughenour, a Shore Avenue property owner for 30 years.

“Somebody’s going to get hurt out there sometime,” he added. “If the county doesn’t listen to constituents who live in that area, you are inviting very certain litigation. And I, for one, will be among the first to sign a check to the attorneys to sue the county if this ordinance is passed.”

Residents living near open hunting areas have complained for decades about the noise from hunters’ guns and raised safety concerns. Residents living around Deer Lagoon have been outspoken about birdshot hitting their homes, domestic animals or themselves.

Hunters felt just as strongly about the new rules that would further restrict their sport.

“I hear the same noise you do,” said Ray Gabelein, a Bayview Road resident and a hunter.

“Hunting has been going on for 70 years. If at all possible, keep all areas open,” he said.

Gabelein agreed that the 50-yard boundary inside the lagoon was too restrictive to waterfowl hunters. And as someone who lives in the area, he agreed that noise was a problem.

“The first thing I hear early in the morning during the summer are the lawn mowers starting up at the golf course,” said Gabelein addressing the noise complaints from residents near the lagoon.

“I don’t complain about the lawn mowers. We all have to learn to share public areas,” he said.

Some hunters said safety wasn’t really an issue, but that those opposed to hunting on Whidbey Island were really concerned about noise.

“These people are asking you to regulate noise,” Bob Maschmedt told the commissioners.

“I moved here to hunt and fish. Hunting is a very short season, it is part of our culture. We should be able to get along,” he said. “Please don’t make Whidbey Island Mercer Island.”

Some speakers opposed hunting on the Kettles Trail property; residents voiced concerns about the safety of other users such as hikers, bird watchers and horseback riders.

“I was on the Kettles Trail property the other day and came across two bicyclists, runners with dogs and evidence of horses on the trail,” said Keith Austin.

“It’s a mistake to allow hunting here. Other users will not be on the trails during hunting season. If the county posts signs during hunting season warning non hunters away, it says you are aware of the dangers,” he said.

The county obtained the land with grant money from H & H Properties in 2003. For 25 years before that sale, H & H had prohibited hunting on Deer Lagoon.

Some argue that Deer Lagoon should fall under the same jurisdiction as Lone Lake.

In 1973, Island County Commissioners passed an ordinance making unlawful to discharge firearms on Lone Lake, Goss Lake and Honeymoon Lake because it was a hazard to the public.

The proposed ordinance will allow waterfowl hunting on the county-owed portion of Deer Lagoon within 50 yards of the property boundary when the discharge or shooting of firearms is from the surface of Dike No. 4.

Hunting near Dear Lagoon is controversial, however. Property owners in the Deer Lagoon area have threatened to take the county to court over hunting in the lagoon.

Similarly, there are also no restrictions on hunting and shooting on the 600-acre Goss Lake Woods parcel on Whidbey Island, and the 400-acre Camano Ridge parcel on Camano Island. The county changes would restrict hunting on those lands to Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 every year.

In the Kettles Trails area near Fort Ebey, deer hunting would be allowed on most of the property, despite heavy objections from other users.

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