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Commissioner warns of legal battle over beach access

Property owner improves access at Greenbank

The controversy about beach access in Greenbank could turn into a legal battle.

In an e-mail to supporters of preserving public beach access at the end of Wonn Road, Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke hinted that legal action may be coming.

The controversy erupted a month ago, when Greenbank resident Glen Russell discovered a wall under construction at the end of the historic county road. He did extensive research which brought into question ownership of the tidelands behind the wall. But Bruce Montgomery, the owner of the adjacent land, has said he has proof that he owns the land and that the wall is entirely on his property.

In the e-mail sent last week to “Save Our Beach” supporters, Bakke said the issue could end up in court.

“In my opinion the Wonn Road situation is a legal question that, given my experience, will probably wind up having to be settled by the courts,” Bakke said in the e-mail. “I firmly believe that our county must preserve, protect and when possible acquire beach access.”

The e-mail also said that the Island County Prosecutor’s Office had asked for additional help with the issue.

Bakke said the prosecutor has asked county commissioners to hire a professional land surveyor/attorney who specializes in these types of cases.

“This individual has been retained and is working with the prosecutor,” Bakke said.

The county hired Jerry Broadus and is paying him $100 an hour, not to exceed $10,000, said Bill Oakes, director of the county’s public works department.

“Public Works recommended to us that we retain the services of a land surveyor who is also an attorney, to work with us as a consultant on the Wonn Road matter,” Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Banks said it’s a necessary step to get the issue settled properly.

“We agreed that, given the questions regarding the title to the Wonn Road land, it would be both cost effective and informative to consult with him,” he said.

Jeff Tate, the county’s planning director, said his department is waiting for the review to be finished before it can decide if the wall can stay or should be removed.

“We don’t have a final decision right now,” Tate said.

“Planning’s involvement in this issue is with respect to the wall and whether or not it should be removed. In order for me to make a decision on that issue, Public Works and the prosecutor must work through the ownership issues first.”

The public works department is involved because it manages roads and the properties within road rights of way, road ends, and so on.

“Right now they are trying to determine what land the county owns,” Tate said. “Based on that information I will make a decision on what, if anything, to do about the road.”

Russell said he is disappointed that more than a month after he filed complaints with the county, the issue is still unsettled.

He said he is beginning to believe that the county is stalling so public interest will wane.

Russell has collected more than 400 signatures on his petition supporting beach access since the controversy began.

Most signatures were collected in Greenbank and south of town, he said. Russell has been touring the Whidbey Island festival circuit in his vintage car, now a “Save Our Beach”-mobile. He has strapped a canoe on an old two-seater and put a sign on it saying “Save Our Beach.”

But the petition drive hit a snag late last week.

The Coupe family who own the Greenbank Store — an important petition site — distanced itself from the controversy and asked Russell’s group to take down the petition and posters.

Montgomery has continued work on his home. Near the wall he has now built a boardwalk.

He said he constructed it to make it easier for people to get to the beach, adding that 50 to

60 families in Greenbank have easement rights to access the beach at the end of Wonn Road.

“I put it out there for the convenience,” Montgomery said. “I let people use the beach, contrary to what some say. I never stopped anybody from going to the beach.”

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