Proposal to improve duck habitat leads to lawsuit

Island County filed a counterclaim this week against a limited liability corporation that wants to improve duck habitat on a South Whidbey property.

In July, Bloodline-11 LLC filed a complaint in Snohomish County Superior Court against Island County, Whidbey Camano Land Trust and the state for declaratory relief and breach of contract.

The county and the Land Trust purchased an agricultural conservation easement on the 55-acre parcel from the estate of Eva Mae Gabelein in 2008. The $1-million payment for the easement was funded equally by a grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office and the county.

The property was purchased by an LLC in 2013 and then conveyed to Bloodline-11 LLC, which is managed by Richard Clotfelter, according to court documents.

Under the terms of the easement, the “agricultural conservation values” of the property must be protected forever, according to court documents. The property owner has to get permission from the grantees of the easement to make changes on the property, but the consent cannot be unreasonably withheld, the lawsuit indicates.

The property owner worked with the nonprofit group Ducks Unlimited on a proposal to modify the existing drainage ditches and swales on the property in order to enhance the habitat for waterfowl. Ducks Unlimited has a federal grant to design and fund improvements on the property, the lawsuit states.

Bloodline submitted the plans, but the county, state and Land Trust declined to accept it, the lawsuit states. It argues that the design complies with the terms of the easement, which place a priority on protecting both the agricultural conservation and habitat values of the property.

The county, however, argues that the proposal would add significant ponds and wetlands to the property, which would reduce farmed acreage and be inconsistent with the terms of the easement.

The historic farm was diked and drained for farmland in 1915, the counterclaim states.

In addition, the county claims that Bloodline failed to maintain the property as required under the easement.

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