Letter from John Polstra & Peggy Means to Land Bank

John Polstra and Peggy Means
1585 Channel Rd.
Lopez Island, WA 98261

November 27, 2016

San Juan County Land Bank
350 Court St. #6
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

To the Commissioners of the San Juan County Land Bank:

We write to express our opposition to the purchase of the Clure property on Lopez Island by the Land Bank. Providing a public access corridor to the beach along San Juan Channel would have a severe impact on the wildlife in the area, would greatly increase the risk of wildfires, would promote the erosion of the fragile bluff, would lead to rampant trespassing on private property, and would rob the property owners in the area of a significant portion of the value of their homes and properties.

The San Juan Channel tidelands are fundamentally different from the other public lands on Lopez Island in a way that makes widespread public access inappropriate. Existing public areas, such as Iceberg Point, Shark Reef Sanctuary, Watmough Bight, and Lopez Hill, are geographically contained and/or isolated in a way that minimizes their impact on the neighboring properties. Each of them adjoins a very small number of private properties. Furthermore, their boundaries with private properties are generally in deep forest and far removed from the pathways used by the public. That is not the case with the San Juan Channel tidelands. Every inch of that narrow beach runs right along somebody’s back yard. There are approximately 28 separate private parcels along the waterfront between the Clure property and Rock Point, and every one of them would be directly and negatively impacted by increased foot traffic along the beach.

As a practical matter, visitors to the beach will be trespassing constantly on the private property of the people who live along this beach. The public tidelands here are quite narrow except when the tide is very low, and around high tide the public tidelands are often completely submerged. Visitors do not know where the public tidelands end and private property begins, and there is no way to mark the boundary between the two. At many points, the higher tides reach all the way to the foot of the bluff, making egress without trespassing impossible. Visitors who find their exit route cut off by rising tides will inevitably trespass on private paths, through private properties, to private roads. It would be grossly irresponsible of the Land Bank to facilitate mass trespassing on the private property of the numerous residents who live along the 2-mile stretch of beach.

The bluff along this beach is sandy and extremely vulnerable to erosion. Even one child clambering up the slope can cause landslides and erosion that persist for years. We personally have seen this happen, and the effects are both lasting and regrettable.

In the past two years, San Juan County has implemented a new Critical Area Ordinance which designates a wide swath of the private property along the shoreline as a buffer zone. Property owners are prohibited from using this land in any significant way. Yet now the Land Bank proposes to open up this critical area to potentially thousands of visitors who neither know nor care about the rules in place. This makes no sense. If it is a critical area, then the County should treat it as such—not invite hoards of tourists to trample on it.

Another serious concern we have is the fire danger you would create by opening up public access to this beach. The bluff here is covered with flammable vegetation, including trees both alive and dead, grasses, and other flammable plants. During the summer dry season, it would only take one careless visitor to light a disastrous wildfire. Visitors can be expected to set off fireworks around the fourth of July and to light beach bonfires at other times. It would be very difficult to put out a fire on this bluff. Access for firefighters, from below or from above, is virtually impossible. A fire would most likely burn the entire bluff, leading to landslides and erosion that would threaten all of the homes at the top.

Those of us who live along this shoreline watched Goose Island burn for weeks in the summer of 2015. Firefighters were not able to put out that fire on a tiny, relatively flat island. Yet, putting out the Goose Island fire would have been much easier than fighting a fire on our bluff along San Juan Channel. Those of us who invested our life savings into buying our homes here chose this neighborhood partly because of its quiet, private beach. The beach was an advertised feature of the properties we bought, and because of it, we had to pay substantially more money for our properties. Now the Land Bank proposes to take that away from us without any compensation for the lost value. That is unfair. If, as the Land Bank apparently believes, the proposed access will benefit the public at large, then why must just a few private parties absorb all of the loss?

Finally, we are dismayed that the Land Bank has gone forward with this so stealthily, without even notifying those of us who would be most directly impacted by it. Discussing the proposal with the people who live here should have been step one of the process. Instead, we found out about it only from an article on the Lopez Rocks website. We view that as a serious breach of faith, and we sincerely hope for more responsible behavior from the commissioners of the Land Bank in the future.

Sincerely yours,
John Polstra and Peggy Means