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A second proposed settlement on the table in beach access lawsuit

Island County commissioners will be discussing publicly for the first time Wednesday a second proposed settlement in the lawsuit over the ownership of a beach access property in Greenbank.

And a group dedicated to public beach access is already marshaling critics opposed to it, even though the group was involved in the negotiations.

The proposed settlement would essentially cut uplands and tidelands of the disputed property at the end of Wonn Road into two parts. Island County would get one half and Greenbank residents Bruce and Joanne Montgomery would get the other; under the terms, the county could only use the property the way in which it was historically used, which means no dock, according to Commissioner Jill Johnson.

“It’s very straightforward and immediate,” she said.

The argument over the small property across from the Greenbank farm began after Montgomery built a wall across the access area, prompting complaints from people who used the property as public beach access.

In 2013, the county filed a lawsuit, claiming property is public land. The Montgomerys argued that the property belongs to them.

About a year ago, the commissioners rejected a complicated settlement with the Montgomerys that would have secured ownership of the property, but only after the couple passed away. In addition, the Montgomerys agreed to donate to the county another beach access property on the other side of the island.

Members of the group Island Beach Access and others in the community argued against accepting the first settlement during a lively commissioners meeting about a year ago. Commissioner Rick Hannold changed his mind and joined Commissioner Helen Price Johnson in opposing the settlement, essentially killing the deal.

As a result, the case headed to trial. Island County and members of Island Beach Access, an intervenor in the case, asked the judge for a summary judgment in their favor. The judge, however, agreed with the Montgomerys that the ownership issues are murky and cannot be settled outside of a trial.

Johnson claims Island Beach Access supported the settlement until about two weeks ago, and then started pushing members to oppose the settlement.

“The disingenuous way they are presenting it to the public leaves a black mark on their organization,” she said.

Wilson Binger, a member of Island Beach Access, said members did oppose the negotiations after terms were added they felt were too restrictive to the group, including provisions that made the group responsible for the conduct of others. He said the group doesn’t yet know what the current settlement entails.

In an email, Island Beach Access asks people to donate to the group and contact the commissioners.

“Tell them you want our access back and ask them not to compromise any of it away,” the email said. “Montgomerys will still be able to enjoy the public beach access under Island County’s management just like all the rest of us.”