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Island County hit by lawsuit over Deer Lagoon shooting ban

A disgruntled hunter has filed a lawsuit against Island County, claiming county commissioners were “arbitrary and capricious” when they adopted restrictions on shooting at Deer Lagoon.

The lawsuit, filed in Island County Superior Court on Nov. 10, claims the county has violated the due process provisions of the Washington and United States constitutions.

The suit was filed on behalf of William Burnside Jr. of Freeland and the Washington Waterfowl Association, a nonprofit hunters’ group that has seven chapters in the state and is based in Edmonds.

Commissioners pointed to safety concerns when they unanimously enacted the shooting ban in early October.

But the lawsuit says county commissioners adopted the restrictions on shooting at Deer Lagoon — previously a popular waterfowl hunting spot — without conducting ballistic studies that would support the ban.

The suit also says the county sheriff’s office has no records that birdshot has ever jeopardized people, domestic animals or property near Deer Lagoon.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the ordinance that created the ban “invalid,” and demands that it be repealed.

The suit also requests a permanent injunction against Island County from enforcing the shooting restrictions, and asks for damages in an amount to be proven at trial.

“We had a lot of testimony, and it was well-considered,” Helen Price Johnson, Island County commissioner for the South End, said Thursday of the decision to ban shooting at the lagoon.

“I’m confident it will stand up to court scrutiny,” she said.

“I think we were well within our legislative authority,” Price Johnson continued. “It was the determination that needed to be made, based on the likelihood of jeopardy, which we believe was clear.”

Attorney John T. Arrabito of Lynnwood, who filed the suit on behalf of Burnside and the hunters’ association, could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Hunting at Deer Lagoon has sparked plenty of controversy in recent years.

Residents near the 379-acre lagoon have frequently complained about noise from hunters, and county commissioners considered regulations in 2005 that would have created a 50-yard, no-shoot buffer zone at the lagoon.

The three Republicans on the commission at the time, however, failed to reach agreement on the restrictions.

A new board of commissioners, comprised of three Democrats, brought the issue back earlier this year.

A new proposal — to create a 25-acre, trapezoid-shaped donut hole in the middle of Deer Lagoon where hunters could still shoot — was ultimately rejected by commissioners, who voted on Oct. 12 for a complete ban on shooting.

Record writer Roy Jacobson contributed to this report.

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