Letter from Albert & Marilyn Berger

Dear San Juan County Council Members,  Land Bank Commissioners and Lopez
Port Commissioners:

As longtime residents of Lopez Island we want to express our strong opposition to the Land Bank acquisition of the Clure property on Lopez Island.  Our opposition is based on the following concerns.

1. LACK OF DUE PROCESS We are appalled by the lack of any substantial public process, leading up to the current purchase agreement with the Clures.  It is apparent that this Land Bank purchase was pushed almost exclusively by the Lopez Trails Association and the Clure Family. There is a lack of public process to include key stakeholders from the public process.  Nearby property owners, that would be most impacted by such a purchase were not informed or given any type of notice by the Land Bank.  This is adverse to how the public process is supposed to work. By avoiding open public hearings – this is inimical to the open governance laws by which San Juan County must operate within.

2. LACK OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY Based on the information to date that we have looked at, the Land Bank has done very little study of the effects this acquisition will have on the environment, wildlife, the feeder bluffs and the surrounding neighborhood.

For example, the feeder bluffs along this entire two mile beach have been identified as the highest priority bluffs for restoration in San Juan County (Coastal Geologic Services Study for Friends of the San Juans, 2010).  The suitability of introducing high traffic onto this sensitive beach must be examined thoroughly.  The prospect of thousands of visitors in a given year accessing this beach with increased car traffic on an already dangerous Shark Reef Road corner needs to be studied.

Parking and people choosing alternative passage to and from the beach are additional issues.  Whether deemed legal or not, beach parties will occur, beach fires will be made, trash will be left, dogs will run off leash, and people will get injured.

Who will be policing these illegal activities?  Who will monitor and maintain the flora and fauna at the existing level? Who will keep the public from trespassing on private property?  Access to the beach will result in foot traffic to the beach areas within the private property lines of the upland homeowners who own to the Mean High Tide Line, which per San Juan County surveys show extends a minimum of 25 feet seaward/westward from the base of the bluff for the entire length of this beach.   Thus, it is clearly foreseeable that the acquisition of the Clure property for beach and trail access will lead to trespass related confrontations between homeowners and visitors.

All of these call for a full and meaningful environmental review before any purchase is contemplated.

3. PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE WESTERN SHORELINE ALREADY EXISTS Currently there already is public access to this shoreline in two public areas (Otis Perkins Park and Shark Reef County Park).  We have walked the entire shoreline from Otis Perkins Park all the way south to just north of Shark Reef Park.  This is a distance of approximately two miles. There is some concern that a few of the lots at the north end of this shoreline have what is termed “second-class tidelands.” If it turns out that such ownership is of concern then we suggest that the Land Bank would be doing the public a greater good by purchasing these limited tidelands and therefore opening up the entire shoreline for public access from Otis Perkins Park southward.

Shark Reef County Park is about 1 mile south along Shark Reef Rd. and is a public park that has access to the San Juan Channel shoreline.  Shark Reef Park is a popular destination attracting thousands of islanders and visitors each year.  Thus it is not clear why additional resources need to be used to provide added access to the shoreline. Nor is it neither proper nor necessary for the Land Bank to duplicate what is already available public access.

4. ADVERSE IMPACT TO WILDLIFE ON THE BEACH The Land bank proposal to acquire the Clure property and increase access to the shoreline will adversely impact the wildlife on the beach. This proposed public access will bring many more visitors to the shoreline which is a nesting location for many ducks and birds such as the harlequin ducks, great blue herons, oyster catchers and bald eagles. There are families of river otters and deer who will be harmed by the influx of visitors.  Seals will be harmed.  This shoreline is used by seals; seal pups can be readily observed on this beach.  Many of these seals come onto the beach from Shark Reef, and Shark Reef itself is the only marine mammal haul out area along the entire 7 mile west shore of Lopez Island between Shark Reef County Park and Upright Head.

Significantly, Shark Reef is designated as a National Wildlife Refuge by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  At low tide, Shark Reef is only about 100 yards from the walkable shoreline.  People are requested to stay at least 200 yards from any National Wildlife Refuge to minimize disturbance. Increased visitation would clearly increase that disturbance from beach walkers and their dogs, on or off leash, in an area where marine mammals seldom experience such disturbance.  All of this important wildlife will be negatively impacted by the additional usage of this shoreline as a result of the proposed project.

We are very concerned that no one will be  present to monitor the potential large groups of bicyclists, people with dogs who let their dogs roam off leash that maybe present on this shoreline.  Our concerns in this regard stem from our experience as BLM monitors here on Lopez Island and the impact we have seen as monitors of visitors to the newly established monument areas such as in Iceberg Point.  The Shark Reef shoreline is a sensitive environment – all of which will be disturbed by increasing the visitors who will access this pristine place on this shoreline.

CONCLUSION We strongly believe that the Land Bank is rushing to judgment without proper evaluation and formal reviews of the project and the everlasting effect such acquisition would have on the property, beach, wildlife, Shark Reef National Wildlife Refuges and the nearby homeowners.

The Land Bank activities and proposed conservation projects should be designed to protect the community’s investment, and specifically stewardship to be a good neighbor.  The acquisition of the Clure property does not carry out the Land Bank mission.  We sincerely hope that you abandon this proposed acquisition.

Thank you,

Albert and Marilyn Berger
Lopez Island