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VIEWPOINT: Greenbank beach fiasco a result of county neglect
The original and correct name of the so called “Wonn Road Extension” is Greenbank Road. It is identified as a county-owned public access, Site 28, in the Existing Conditions and Site Inventory, Island County Shoreline Access Study. This study and the accompanying map lists ALL public accesses and public tidelands in Island County and is supposed to be available to the public at the Department of Planning and Community Development. Guess what? They can’t find it.
In 1972 a slick developer acquired a lot adjacent to Greenbank Road to the south and questionable title to the tidelands fronting the road. He then got a permit to put a trailer and septic system on his lot by providing false information to the county. This was illegal. The trailer and septic system were actually on the tidelands fronting his lot. Sand was bulldozed up from lower on the beach to make a pad for the trailer. A chain was slung across the historic beach access and “Keep Out” signs were posted. The people of Greenbank went over the chain. Our children went under it. Although informed of the fraud, the county never had the moxie to kick him off. This is documented by county files and by people who watched it happen. Complaints were filed. Nothing.
1996-2006. Now comes Medina multi-millionaire A. Bruce Montgomery, buying up all the properties bordering Greenbank Road for over a million, tax included. In 2006 he acquires the key piece: Slick’s trailer and septic system on tidelands, with empty lot attached. Also the tidelands fronting Greenbank Road. Montgomery did not cause the initial encroachment but he sure intends to benefit from it. Off goes the trailer and in comes part of a new two story “beach cottage” and septic system plus additional drainfields for another house, all on tidelands.
But these tidelands are not really tidelands because they are above mean high water. They are designated tidelands by the county because the old government survey that Island County uses to determine property ownership is inaccurate and does not show the little point that goes out to where the old Greenbank Wharf was. Slick had spotted this. Tideland that is never covered by water.
In Washington state, the uplands extend to mean high water and the tidelands extend from there to extreme low water. The mean high water line is approximately 172 front from where Montgomery says the road ends. Free land. For Montgomery? Or for the people?
The county has always claimed 20 feet of the 40 foot wide tidelands fronting Greenbank Road because of the shady title. However, they are taxing Montgomery for the entire 40 feet. Oops!
2008: Now Montgomery is blocking off the entire access with a stone faced, concrete-block wall. He is also claiming his encroachment on the tidelands with the cottage and drainfields are legal because of something called “the Doctrine of Laches” which, in effect, says that if you rob a bank and nobody comes after you within a certain amount of time, you get to keep the money. And lawyers wonder why people make nasty jokes about them! Well, I hope that the Doctrine of Trust, the Doctrine of Custom and Prescriptive Right by Usage trump “Laches.”
Mr. Montgomery seems to be a very nice man, but he is ripping the historic heart out of our community. Greenbank Road, out to the dock, is the Plymouth Rock of Greenbank. Does he know that there was and is a community of small farms and families that grew outward from the beach he is blocking off? There has been continuous public usage of Greenbank Road to and from the water since first settlement.
I filed a formal complaint and requested a stop-work order on the wall over a week ago. The county says that it will take them two more weeks to do research. By that time the wall will be completed. I went up to the courthouse this morning to see about getting an emergency injunction to stop work. You guessed it, “Ha ha, come back with a lawyer.”
If this makes your blood boil, talk, call and write to your county commissioners. They need to protect every “tiny area of barnacle-covered rocks” we have left.
Glen Russell is a Greenbank resident and leader of S.O.B.! Save Our Beach! (360-678-5972; firstname.lastname@example.org).