Wonn Road ruling expected soon

A judge in Skagit County Superior Court is expected to make an important ruling in the near future about Greenbank’s famed disputed access — the end of Wonn Road. Attorneys representing Island County, advocacy group Island Beach Access, Greenbank residents Bruce and Joanne Montgomery, and neighbors to the Montgomerys argued at length over motions before the court last week Thursday.

Bruce Montgomery

A judge in Skagit County Superior Court is expected to make an important ruling in the near future about Greenbank’s famed disputed access — the end of Wonn Road.

Attorneys representing Island County, advocacy group Island Beach Access, Greenbank residents Bruce and Joanne Montgomery, and neighbors to the Montgomerys argued at length over motions before the court last week Thursday.

The county and Island Beach Access attorneys are asking the judge to approve summary judgment motions and find that the disputed property is public.

Attorneys for the Montgomerys and neighboring property owners oppose the motions and want to go to trial, which is set for October. They also argued that Island Beach Access does not have standing and shouldn’t be allowed to participate in litigation.

On Thursday, Island County Chief Civil Prosecutor Dan Mitchell and Prosecutor Greg Banks pointed out that the reason there can be a dispute over beach property is because of an unfortunate decision by state leaders in the early 20th century to sell off tidelands to private interests.

The 40-foot beach access in Greenbank represents a “crumb” left over for the public.

“And like the Grinch in the Dr. Seuss book, they want the crumb,” Banks said.

Opposing attorneys, however, argued that the record is far from clear and the trial is likely to become “a war of experts.” Tom Seguine, the attorney representing the neighbors, repeatedly argued that the lawsuit had become a political dispute in Island County.

“This has truly become a political issue and they’re trying to bring politics into the courtroom,” he said.

Attorneys on the other side said it’s simply about preserving public beach access.

“The reason I’ve become so engrossed in the case and so invested in this case,” said Steve Todd, a volunteer attorney for Island Beach Access, “is because what’s going on here is against the law and the court needs to put a stop to it, to tell the Montgomerys to tear down the wall.”

The fracas began in 2008 when residents Joanne and Bruce Montgomery built a low wall adjacent to their home at the end of Wonn Road, blocking public beach access; they claimed its location was on their property. The county sued in March of 2013 to remove the wall.

Earlier this year the Montgomerys agreed to a complex settlement offer proposed by the county during lengthy negotiations, apparently approved by two of the three commissioners. But Commissioner Rick Hannold changed his mind and scuttled the deal after hearing arguments against the settlement from fellow Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and a crowd of residents.

As a result, the ownership of the small piece of property will be determined in court, with an appeal likely from whoever wins.

At the heart of the county’s argument is a 1944 plat by property owner W. James Pratt. Under the plat, Wonn Road was given to the county.

“From the day that plat was recorded, no one had any authority to interfere with the public’s right to the beach,” Mitchell said.

Aaron Laing, attorney for the Montgomerys, argued that the plat was ambiguous and that a 1955 easement by Pratt shows that his intention was not to convey the tidelands to the county. The easement provided property owners with a 20-foot easement on the disputed property.

“There are historical issues of fact that cannot be resolved in summary judgment,” he said.

Laing said the county knew about the dispute over the property for many years and did nothing.

“The county sits on its hands for 40 years and everyone with information about the case has passed away,” he said.

 

More in News

Historical society to lead presentation about Gabelein family history

Pick up a local phone book. Thumb to the page with the… Continue reading

Langley man airlifted after rollover crash

A Langley resident was airlifted for treatment after rolling his 1995 Ford… Continue reading

Knox Shannon, 8, looks out the window of his new bedroom in the house built by Habitat for Humanity. Island County is set to implement fee changes that would result in savings for the organization, and other developers, in the plan review stage of receiving building permits. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/ Whidbey News-Times
New building permit fees should reduce costs in county

The Board of Island County Commissioners is set to vote on building… Continue reading

Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
                                The Kettles trails were acquired by Island County in 1996 using funds from the conservation futures program. The county is now accepting applications for the 2018 award cycle, but a low fund balance may limit the acceptance of new projects.
No guarantees for awarding of conservation futures funds

The Island County Conservation Futures Program is now accepting applications from eligible… Continue reading

No injuries in pair of crashes

Two car crashes on Wednesday in Clinton did not result in any… Continue reading

Firefighter stops chicken coop fire, helps save Langley home

A quick response by a local firefighter may have helped save a… Continue reading

Photo provided
                                A evidence photo taken by police shows a deputy’s AR-15 rifle that was involved in a police-related shooting on North Whidbey in September.
Review: Deputy justified in fatal shooting

A deputy was justified in fatally shooting Navy sailor Nicholas K. Perkins… Continue reading

Planning Commission member Tracy Gilroy speaks during a meeting on Monday. The commission voted to approve amendments made in response to a settlement agreement between Island County and the Whidbey Island Environmental Action Network. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Forest practices changes heading to board

Island County Planning Commission voted Monday to amend code related to forest… Continue reading

Dancing Fish Farm to buzz with The Bee Eaters fiddlers

Acoustic concert features fiddling siblings

Most Read