To: San Juan County Land Bank Board,
San Juan County Council,
Lopez Community Trails Network
We are writing to you to register our opposition to the proposed acquisition by the San Juan County Land Bank of two properties, known as the Clure acquisition located on the southwestern side of Lopez Island off Meadow Land near its intersection with Shark Reef Road. We are property owners on Lopez Island at 215 Perkins Lane, Sunset Acres. Joanna is President of the Sunset Acres Owners Association, the Homeowners Association for the Sunset Acres plat.
The proposed acquisition would give public access to a 2‐mile stretch of partly private (landward of the Mean High Water, MHW mark) and partly public (west or waterward of the MHW) beach that runs north from the Clure properties to Sunset Acres beach. Sunset Acres beach is a private beach (including the tidelands). Sunset Acres Owners Association and individual property owners in the Sunset Acres plat own the whole Sunset Acres beach both landward of the Mean High Water, MHW and the tidelands, i.e., waterward of the MHW.
The proposal for acquiring these properties is sponsored by the Lopez Community Trails Network. We originally heard about this proposal from the Network. When we heard about it, the stated purpose of the acquisition was to allow public access to the 2‐mile stretch of beach along the west coast of Lopez Island. The information we received implied that the whole beach was already public but had limited usage due to having no public land access.
At that time we thought the provision of public access to an already public beach was reasonable. However after gathering more detailed information we do not support the proposal. The public part of the 2‐mile stretch is extremely limited and is below the Mean High Water, MHW, i.e., the tidelands. This means that at many times of the day and during many parts of the year, there is no, or virtually no public beach. The rest of the beach, i.e., above the MHW, is owned by the property owners on the bluffs above the beach. It is therefore a private beach. We have since learned that even access from the public road to this proposed acquisition may be questionable.
Many of the property owners of the 2‐mile stretch of beach are concerned about trespassing, increased risk of fire and beach/bluff degradation. We share these concerns. We are also concerned that these same increased risks will accrue to the Sunset Acres beach since it is immediately north of the 2‐mile stretch of beach. The 2‐mile stretch of beach is very isolated and will not be owned and hence not managed directly by the Land Bank. The Land Bank will only own the access properties, and will not be responsible for any damage that may occur to the beach to the north. This is a different situation than other Land Bank properties on Lopez Island. The other properties are owned and directly managed by the Land Bank and visited on a regular basis by the Lopez Island Steward.
Lopez Island is a beautiful but fragile ecosystem. There are already many wonderful public beaches on the island including county parks, Agate Beach, Odlin and Otis Perkins Day Park, Spencer Spit State Park, the Land Bank Watmough Bay Preserve, the Land Bank Fisherman Bay Preserves – which now include an additional 800 feet of public beach along the Tombolo that the Sunset Acres Owners Association sold to the Land Bank in December 2016, and others areas such as Iceberg Point.
If Washington had a different history and legal structure for ownership of shorelines perhaps all shorelines would be public. However that is not the case. The benefits of this acquisition are very limited and put private property at risk. In addition, the cost of the acquisition ($900,000) is high, both in terms of impact and dollars. There are other properties that if purchased by the Land Bank, using the same funds, would give Lopez residents and tourists more benefits.
Unfortunately we are out of the country on January 10 when the Council holds its public hearing on this proposal. We are registering our opposition to this proposed acquisition as individuals not as representatives of Sunset Acres Owners Association. However, we have heard similar concerns and opposition from other Sunset Acres property owners.
We oppose this proposal and ask that you do not approve it.
Joanna and Jeff Richey