Beach access trial delayed; Both sides agree not to talk to press

A trial that is supposed to decide the ownership of a sliver of waterfront property in Greenbank is now delayed.

Island County’s lawsuit against Bruce and Joanne Montgomery over beach access at the end of Wonn Road was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 11, but was recently continued to Nov. 29.

It’s unclear if settlement talks are taking place.

Earlier this year, Bruce Montgomery said he proposed a settlement in which Island County would get an easement through the property that would allow public access to the beach and water. Under the proposal, Montgomery would retain ownership of the property.

Jane Seymour, an attorney representing Island Beach Access, said all parties involved agreed not to discuss what is currently happening in the case. Island Beach Access is a Whidbey Island group that advocates for public beach access and is an intervener in the lawsuit.

Bruce Montgomery also said all sides agreed not to talk to the press.

Island County commissioners and the Montgomerys worked out a complicated settlement last year that the commissioners then rejected in a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Jill Johnson was the sole vote in favor of the settlement.

That settlement would have returned the Wonn Road access within 10 years or when the latter of the Montgomerys died, whichever comes later. The county would also receive an additional west-side piece of beachfront property and $50,000. The Montgomerys would have had the right for 10 years to propose alternative beach access sites, though whether to accept those proposals would have rested entirely with the board.

The county filed the lawsuit against the Montgomerys in 2013, five years after the couple erected a stone wall at the end of Wonn Road. The county claims the property belongs to the public and the wall needs to come down. The Montgomerys argue that their ownership is clear.

But so far, the case hasn’t gone the county’s way. Prosecutors lost two motions for summary judgment.

During a summary judgment hearing in July, Island County prosecutors argued that a 1944 plat by property owner W. James Pratt was unambiguous and gave Wonn Road and the tidelands at its end to Island County.

Attorneys representing the Montgomerys and neighboring property owners argued that a 1955 easement by Pratt shows that his intention was not to convey the tidelands to the county.

The judge concluded that questions of material fact exist which cannot be resolved in summary judgment.

“It is telling that the meaning of this plat has been disputed for over 40 years,” she wrote. “That so many declarations need to be filed to support what should be clear on the face of the plat is also indicative of the murkiness of the platter’s intent. The plat is unclear on its face.”

The county has a choice of trying the case with that judge, asking for a jury or settling with the Montgomerys.