“In stewardship of Land Bank properties, we constantly strive to find the balance between ecological stewardship and public access”
—Mandate of the San Juan County Land Bank
The San Juan County Land Bank is proposing to convert a private easement into a public access point on Lopez Island. This proposed access point will expose a two-mile stretch of premiere wildlife habitat to a significant increase in human activity.
These tidelands, and the adjoining private beach, are described as “nearly pristine” and having a “wild and remote flavor” by the group that is promoting this project. The so-called “preserve” is an acquisition whose sole purpose is to promote increased recreational use of what is now a quiet, minimally disturbed shoreline.
We have evidence from similar Lopez parks to indicate that this proposed preserve could attract a large number of visitors. It is located directly on the way to Shark Reef County Park, the most popular tourist destination outside of Lopez Village. Visitor tallies conducted by the BLM indicate that over 18,000 people visited Watmough Bay and over 17,000 visited Iceberg Point last year alone. If even a portion of this number of visitors come to the beach, it will represent an enormous impact on this sensitive shoreline.
The proposed new park is located immediately adjacent to a National Wildlife Refuge, which is a critical haul-out area for harbor seals. At low tide these Refuge rocks will be vulnerable to disturbance from humans and their dogs. Nearby is an unstable bluff which has experienced one major slide in each of the past two winters.
The Land Bank has failed to conduct any preliminary studies of possible impacts to this critical wildlife habitat before planning the purchase this property. We think it would be an abrogation of the public trust to allow access without first understanding the full impacts of that access on the neighborhood and the fragile shoreline. We call upon the San Juan County Land Bank to halt this process until comprehensive studies are undertaken to evaluate the ramifications of converting a “nearly pristine” beach into a new tourist attraction.
Our primary areas of concern are:
- The proposed access will expose prime wildlife habitat and critical tidelands to a marked increase in human disturbance.
- The proposed access will put the public in proximity to a high-hazard bluff, as well as vastly increase the danger of wildfire from illegal beach fires.
- The proposed access will make adjacent beach owners vulnerable to the constant threat of trespassing, as it will be virtually impossible to restrict the public’s use of the beach to the tidelands only.
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