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Useless Bay Colony residents threaten county with lawsuit

Residents of Useless Bay Colony are prepared to fight, in court, to stop hunting in Deer Lagoon.

They’ve already hired an attorney, and late last week the colony’s lawyer sent a letter to Island County Commissioners threatening legal action if hunting is allowed in Deer Lagoon.

Roughly 400 people live in Useless Bay Colony, and residents at the community next to Deer Lagoon have repeatedly raised concerns about safety and noise from hunting at the South End lagoon.

Last week, colony residents warned Island County could find itself in court over the hunting issue. The county commissioners are considering new rules to cover hunting on the county’s publically-owned lands, and is expected to adopt the new regulations Dec. 19.

Peter Eglick of EKW, a law firm in Seattle, said in his letter to the commissioners that the county cannot lawfully open Deer Lagoon for hunting.

“If it attempts to do so, the county may find itself embroiled in a protracted legal controversy, which could result in being cited to account for misrepresentation, misspent funds, and a failure to perform required environmental review,” Eglick wrote.

One of the main issues pressed by Eglick is the process the county undertook to create the new hunting rules. Eglick said that process has not followed the proper procedure outlined under the state’s Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA.

“The county has neglected its homework, before it can proceed with the proposed ordinance to allow hunting, it must comply with SEPA, including its public comment requirements,” Eglick wrote.

Bill Oakes, the director of public works and the lead county staffer on the new rules, declined to say if the county has properly followed the SEPA process in promulgating the regulations.

“The purchase of property is exempt from SEPA. The SEPA process is lengthy and drawn out,” Oakes said.

The new ordinance restricts hunting on Deer lagoon within a 50-yard boundary of the county-owned portion of the lagoon, a stretch of about 300 acres.

But that is not enough for residents surrounding the lagoon.

They are tired of the noise from the discharge of guns during hunting season and they are concerned about their safety.

Eglick says that because Deer Lagoon was a no-hunting area before the county purchased the property, changing its use requires going through the SEPA process.

“The SEPA process is not just a formality in this case. Hunting within Deer Lagoon will likely have probable significant impacts on bird species and other wildlife and other wildlife and not just from direct hits,” Eglick said.

According to Eglick, the proposed ordinance runs counter to comments that county officials made when they sought outside money to buy the property.

At that time, Eglick said, the county indicated the lagoon would become an Island County Park for passive recreational uses, something that includes things like hiking and bird watching but not hunting.

Firearms are also prohibited on county park property, Eglick noted.

Island County purchased approximately 379 acres of Deer Lagoon from H & H Properties for $1.4 million in January 2004. When the county acquired the property from H & H Properties, the developers of the the colony, hunting was prohibited on the property.

According to Bill Sievers, the principal owner of H & H, the purchase price was discounted so the sale would go through.

“It was appraised at $2.7 million. But we were told by county officials it would become a park,” Sievers said.

The county told H & H, the state and federal funding agencies that the property would become a county park managed by the Island County Parks and Recreation District.

Deer Lagoon, which is home to a large bird population, is also adjacent to an 10- to 18-acre state park. State laws prohibits loaded weapons in state parks.

“It doesn’t make any sense to allow hunting so close to a residential area,” Sievers said.

While hunters have claimed to have hunted for years in Deer Lagoon, Sievers says that prior to the county’s purchase, they were trespassing on private property.

“They were trespassing. We used to get them off the property, but some of them were aggressive,” he said.

H & H had a private hunting club on Deer Lagoon before 1980, but according to Sievers, the club was discontinued because the area became too populated.

That incompatibility of hunting near homes was also recognized by the board of the Useless Bay Golf and County Club, which owns Deer Lagoon property near Dike No. 1 on the east side of the property. The club has adopted a resolution prohibiting the discharge of firearms across, into or on any golf club property.

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