Letter from Mary Ann & Larry Bailey to Land Bank

(360) 468-3217

November 23, 2016

SJC Land Bank Commissioners
350 Court Street, # 6
Friday Harbor,WA 98250 Attn: Lincoln Bormann, Director

Re: Proposed Acquisition of Clure Property on Lopez Island

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are writing again to express our extreme opposition, along with all of our immediate neighbors, to the acquisition of the Clure Property by the Land Bank. As we previously advised, we have been residents of Lopez Island since 1975 and own property immediately adjacent to the proposed acquisition. We own private rights to the existing beach access,a portion of which crosses our property, and have used and maintained it with our neighbors for over 40 years.

The proposed upland access to public tidelands is unprecedented in its scope of impact on adjacent homeowners: no other Land Bank acquisition on Lopez Island has exposed so many homeowners to such a tremendous change to their environment and their reasonable expectations of privacy and security.

At your 11/18/16 meeting you talked about a tradition of “trust and sharing” by islanders. “Trust and sharing” is a two way street. Your failure to even contact the adjacent homeowners at anytime about this proposal certainly doesn’t meet this standard of conduct.

Adjacent homeowners are “Key Stakeholders” in the process of acquiring public access affecting them. One can only surmise that the Trails Group was less than transparent when they lobbied their idea to you.They apparently advised you that the homeowners adjacent to the Clure property didn’t object,when in fact they intentionally didn’t contact us because they knew any homeowner would have great concerns about the conversion of a private easement in a residential development into a public right-of-way. If this is not the case, then the Land Bank has intentionally excluded Key Stakeholders from what is supposed to be a public process under the SJC Code.

Over 37 properties border the public beach. Eight property owners use Meadow Lane as access to their properties. To our knowledge, only one property owner in the area (who happens to live north of the Clure property and is friendly to the Trails Group)was contacted about this. The rest us were left totally in the dark until 2 weeks ago. In any scenario, Key stakeholders have been excluded from the public process. This is not how the public process is supposed to work and is fundamentally unfair!

Your Chairman further stated that those in opposition to this acquisition were asleep at the switch and should have been well aware of your proposed actions. In short, this is simply not true. Your own records show that there was no practical way for us to to find out about this matter unless we attended every one of your meetings and scrutinized all of your notes,minutes and records. The “Clure property”, as such, was not listed in any Land Bank Meeting Agenda until the 11/18 meeting. We will forward by separate email a summary compiled only after extensive research that details how everything in your records this on your proposal.One can now see how this entire process was virtually hidden from public scrutiny until your 11/18 Meeting. Please read it. There is very little in your records to provide even a dedicated researcher with any information about this matter.

It was painfully obvious at your meeting that the Land Bank has done very little examination of the effect this acquisition will have on the environment,wildlife, the feeder bluffs and the surrounding neighborhood. No effort has been made to conduct baseline surveys and/or studies to determine existing conditions and identify vulnerable ecological values prior to acquiring the property for public use. No effort has been made to determine as accurately as possible how many people may be expected to utilize the property. Accessibility is among the many unanswered questions . In your plot plan, you describe an “accessible trail”, which mostly follows the existing trail as it descends to the beach. We use “descends” because that is truly descriptive.

You state that “it should be relatively easy to provide access to persons with limited mobility”. One of our group measured the grade and found that: “The existing access road is quite steep,with grades exceeding 20%. ADA Guidelines for trails specify that accessible t rail grades may not exceed 5% over long runs, and 8% over shorter ones.” That’s a long way from 20%. It’s hard to imagine how it could be improved without massive land disturbance of this “pristine area”, if at all.

Health and Public Safety for the “Party Beach”

It is virtually certain that this “preserve” will become a popular party beach. The beach is an ideal spot to watch the long summer sunsets. There are numerous pocket sandy areas and large beach logs ideally suited to picnics and BBQs. As we know, these pocket beaches are all almost exclusively located above mean high tide, which means that: the places most desired for beach-goers are mainly on private land and not on the public tidelands. So at low tide, the Public will have space, but at high tide they either have to stand in the water, depart or subject themselves to trespassing charges. We can’t stress this possibility enough and this will create conflicts in and of itself!

  • The abundant driftwood will provide an irresistible source of wood for beach fires. All you need is a lighter to start a fire.
  • The beach adjacent to the access road is relatively sheltered from wind compared with areas north and south.
  • The access road is wide enough for two people to walk abreast and carry larger items such as coolers, BBQs, etc. The distance is not unreasonable for fit individuals to carry a lot of stuff (read: beer) down to the beach for a party.
  • The beach is far from the public road and largely invisible from the top of the bluff. Other good sunset-watching beaches on Lopez (Otis Perkins, Fish Bay Spit, Odlin Park) are highly visible to the public, and these “eyes on the street” provide an effective mechanism for curtailing bad behavior.
  • Shark Reef Bight is very secluded, pristine and private.This will vanish with the Trails Group proposal.
  • When you bring all these elements together, there is no question that this beach access will provide a uniquely attractive location for beach parties.

Word will get out.

Prime recreation locations do not need to be even advertised by managing agencies for them to become well known. With social media, the location of primo spots is quickly shared. There are numerous apps that let folks mark and share favorite locations. Local media, especially in Seattle, frequently publish stories touting the best “secret beaches” and “secret getaways.” Local teenagers could be as big an issue as tourists.

This year Lopez was highlighted nationally as the #1 Biking Destination in the US by several national publications and almost all those bikers stop by Shark Reef Park. SJC doesn’t track the visitors at Shark Reef Park, but the numbers clearly exceed the 18,450+ visiting Watmough Bay. All of these visitors will be riding right by the beach access and it’s a sure bet that a huge number will stop here.

Has the Land Bank toured the proposed access point with the Sheriff’s Dept. to assess the potential for troublesome activities and enforcement challenges? Or contacted the Fire Department to discuss fire prevention and options for medical evacuations?

The Land Bank must weigh the benefit of public access against its limited management resources. While volunteers are a good answer for beach monitoring, cleanup, outreach, etc., it would be inappropriate to utilize volunteers to enforce regulations regarding fires, noise complaints, alcohol & cannabis consumption, etc. The burden of enforcement and healthcare assistance will thus fall upon adjacent homeowners to call the Sheriff and/or 911 to come out to the site to deal with problems and injuries.

Does the Land Bank have sufficient resources to properly manage this preserve? Your own records indicate NO! Your meeting minutes indicate that commissioners are already concerned that you are overstretched to manage and maintain your existing properties. We believe that your proposed Management and Maintenance Budget for this acquisition does not even scratch the surface of what the real costs will be.

Wildlife—are we giving them enough room?

Will this acquisition have a significant adverse impact on the total available marine wildlife habitat on the west side of Lopez Island? The two miles of public tidelands under consideration represent a significant portion of shoreline that San Juan County’s Shoreline Master Program has designated as Highest Quality Habitat and a highly sensitive Critical Area.

Will the Land Bank coordinate its conservation plans with the US Fish & Wildlife to ensure adequate protection for Shark Reef Wildlife Refuge? It is difficult to conceive how the Land Bank can enforce an adequate buffer zone around the Shark Reef rocks.

We strongly believe the Land Bank made a serious misstep with this project: the current pre-acquisition process is clearly inadequate to address concerns from conservationists and adjacent homeowners. As the last speaker( a 40 year veteran of managing and maintaining public beach access on Martha’s Vineyard) stated at your 11/18 meeting: “Management and Maintenance is the key to all successful projects.” Preparing management and maintenance plans take time, and one major problem with this project is that: things are moving way too fast. What is the rush? This property is not going away. The Clures have been trying to sell it without success for over 40 years.

We strongly believe that the Land Bank is rushing to judgement without proper evaluation of the property and the profound, lasting effect this acquisition will have on the property, the adjacent beach, wildlife, the Shark Reef National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent homeowners. We urge you to defer this action until all issues are thoroughly studied and potential damages to all concerned are mitigated.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Ann Bailey
Larry Bailey