VIEWPOINT: County continues to probe Greenbank beach issue

Thank you for your coverage of an important issue for not only the Greenbank community, but neighborhoods throughout our two islands.

It is important to provide your readers with a clear statement of Island County Planning and Community Development’s position on this issue, and particularly the situation regarding Wonn Road.

If the wall that is being constructed at Wonn Road is located on county property, or somebody else’s property, our department will utilize every legal remedy available to force the removal of the wall.

Right now, the Island County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is looking into the question of who owns what property. They were asked to answer this question because there are many pieces of information that are vague, conflicting, or questionable in their legality.

While there are many opinions about ownership, our obligation is to sort through this issue by getting down to the facts. And if the facts show that the individual who is constructing the wall doesn’t own the property where the wall is being erected — it will be removed.

The wall that is being constructed has not been permitted by Island County. Under state law, walls that are less than four feet in height do not require a permit. This wall is less than four feet in height.

With that said, it does not mean that walls shorter than four feet can be built anywhere by anyone — they must still meet all of the other rules and regulations that govern land use, the environment, property ownership and public access.

Island County is taking this matter very seriously. Protecting, preserving and acquiring property that provides public access to the beaches and shorelines of Island County is a top priority of local government, and part of this department’s main mission.

Our three Island County Commissioners provide financial and staff resources to carry out a wide variety of programs that effectively implement this important goal. Those programs include administration of the shoreline management program, salmon recovery program, parks and recreation planning, the Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District, and a number of localized watershed planning efforts. All of these programs place a heavy emphasis on seeking ways to protect and preserve existing shoreline access points, and to look for opportunities to acquire new access locations. We do not lack the resources or commitment needed to fulfill these important goals.

Island County is responding to the Wonn Road situation promptly. Upon notification that a wall was being constructed at the end of Wonn Road, Planning and Community Development met with staff from Island County Public Works and developed an immediate response strategy.

Our first step was obvious — staff from both departments visited the property to investigate what was occurring. This investigation included locating surveyed property stakes.

After researching the county’s files, and the allegations that had been submitted, it was confirmed that some information was conflicting, other pieces lacked clarity and other items raised questions of legality.

As legal clarity is provided by the county prosecuting attorney, Planning and Community Development will respond swiftly.

In the meantime, the landowner has been notified that they are proceeding at their own risk, and that the outcome from our investigation may be an order to remove the wall.

While the ownership issue requires some sorting out, the outcome is simple. A wall will be allowed if it is on private property and it does not interfere with legally established public beach access. Otherwise, a wall will not be allowed.

Jeff Tate is director of Island County Planning and Community Development.