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Beach access conflict may turn into legal battle

More than three months after he called the attention of county officials to the potential loss of public beach access in Greenbank, Glen Russell has had enough and is considering legal actions.

He said he is tired of foot-dragging by the county and empty promises.

“The county has been ignoring the interests of the residents of Greenbank for over 36 years and has been bending over backwards for Mr. Montgomery for the last two,” Russell said.

The issue erupted in mid-June, when Russell discovered that Bruce Montgomery, who is building a private residence on beachfront property, had erected a wall at the end of Wonn Road.

Russell began to investigate historic and county documents and filed two formal complaints with the county on June 12, he said.

“The first complaint was about the wall blocking Greenbank/Wonn Road. The second complaint was directed at Mr. Montgomery’s encroachment onto the tidelands fronting his Lot 17-3. This complaint has never been acknowledged or referred to by (planning director) Mr. (Jeff) Tate. It is over three months since it was filed,” he said.

The county has not responded to either complaint, he said.

“I’m considering legal discourse. I’m looking into that right now,” Russell said.

The issue of public access was referred from the county planning department to the prosecutor’s office and public works department; the dispute was then handed over to private surveyor/attorney Jerry Broadus.

The county’s public works director said the issue remains a priority.

“The issue is still under legal review,” said Bill Oakes, public works director. “They have not come to a conclusion yet.”

“First, I am not a lawyer, but from an engineer’s perspective, the files on the issue are thick and this is a very complex question,” Oakes said. “I hope we will have an answer soon.”

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said the deputy prosecutor assigned to the case has recently checked with Broadus about the delays.

“I do know he has been in contact with our consultant in an attempt to expedite the matter,” he said, but because both the deputy and the consultant were out of town, Banks added he didn’t know the current status.

Russell said he is not satisfied with that answer, and suspects that the county hopes public interest in the dispute will fade.

He said calls, e-mails and registered U.S. Mail to county officials — including South End Commissioner Phil Bakke — remained unanswered.

Russell said that when he felt ignored by his own commissioners, he called on Camano Commissioner John Dean in an e-mail requesting that Dean instruct the planning department to contact him. That was on Sept. 11.

“This must have hit a nerve. I received a phone call from Commissioner Bakke within half an hour. He told me to ‘rest assured’ that public access was very important to him. Commissioner Dean called me the next morning. Everybody is waiting for the legal review of complaint one.

“Nobody knows anything or says anything about complaint two,” he said. Russell added that it’s not too much for a citizen to ask for a timely response from government officials.

“The possibilities range from total ignorance to criminal negligence,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russell and his supporters continue to collect signatures to save the beach access.

“We now have over 1,000 signatures on our Save Greenbank Landing Petition,” he said.

Bakke could not be reached for comment Monday.

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