Letter from Cynthia Moffitt

Jamie Stephens

Dear Councilman Stephens,

I am writing to you about the proposed SJC Land Bank acquisition of the Clure Property on Lopez Island.  I oppose the LB purchase of this property.

Having owned a house at Sunset Acres since 2003, and visited my parents at their former house, also at SA, since 1970’s, I am intimately familiar with the microenvironment of the beach associated with the Clure property.

The first time I heard about the LB proposal was in late November 2016 from the Islander Newspaper.  That’s all the information I have received.  A land use change such as the LB Clure/Beach property requires early and continuous public involvement and necessitates meaningful public discussion about the proposed change.

Since the beach area for the LB proposal abuts our private beach, many hikers, often with their unleashed dogs, currently trespass over the SA beach to get to the LB part of the beach.  I estimate the number of public visitors on the SA beach during summer months to be significantly higher – in the range of 1000 walkers per month or higher – if the LB proposal is approved.

As others who oppose the LB proposal have noted to you, the public part of the beach is extremely limited and is below the Mean High Water, MHW i.e. tidelands.  At most times of the day and during most times of the year, there is no public beach to walk on.

My question to the Land Bank and County Commissioners is who is liable if there is an out of control fire on the beach that spreads up a bank on to the uplands? The bank along the two-mile beach associated with the Clure property is mostly covered with trees, shrubs and grass and is often tinder dry from June – September.   Is it the Lopez Community Trails Network, the San Juan County Land Bank, San Juan County, WA State DNR or another jurisdiction that is liable?  Or is it the property owner? Costs for such a fire, particularly if it were to damage house(s) up on the bank can exceed $1 million.

Recall the Shark Reef fire that occurred on June 2016.  An illegal camper at Sharks Reef that arrived apparently via kayak started the fire.  The person likely thought the fire was out but embers in the pit re-ignited the campfire. The Lopez fire crew had to fight the fire with 20-pound water containers hauled on their backs into Shark Reef County Park.  It’s difficult work for the fire fighters and an exhausting way to fight a fire. Keep in mind Lopez Fire Department has no backup available trucks from other Fire Departments to aid their fire fighting.

I’ve experienced campfires smoldering the next day after persons left from the fire – one fire was close to my house on a low bank property.  About a year ago, in mid-summer, I smelled smoke but could not see it. Upon closer inspection of our beach I found a partially buried fire.   It took two neighbors and myself an hour to shovel out the still burning driftwood embers and throw them in the San Juan Channel.  There’s no access on the beach to water from a house.

Furthermore it’s not possible to drive a fire truck on the LB beach access road.  This road is substandard for a fire truck. Therefore the Lopez fire crew would likely need to hike up onto the bank to fight any fire.  In some cases perhaps, the fire crew may be able to lower their hoses from a truck if they can get access to land on the upper part of the bank.  Still this is kind of fire can be exhausting to fight for the fire crew.

In summer, is the season I worry about fire danger the most, when someone builds a fire in the evening, and a southwesterly wind blows sparks from the fire up the bank.  There’s always a surplus of wood on the beach to use for fires.  It takes only one spark to ignite a fire.  A fire can even happen if the person who set the fire, thinks they’ve buried all the embers, and leaves the beach – and then later the fire re-ignites and sparks drift up the bank into the shrubs and trees.  It’s even more challenging to fight a fire in the middle of the night.

Other fire related questions include – if a campfire is not adequately snuffed out, does the landowner of the property need to go down to the beach and make sure it is no longer an active campfire?  Banks along the beach are 50 to 70 feet in height.  That’s a significant distance to hike down the hill, even more difficult in the night.  Who will monitor the beach 24/7 for the illegal campfires?

Other fire questions include will landowners on the bank need to purchase a higher level of fire insurance premiums due to fire risk? How would an insurance agent evaluate this risk?  Does the increased risk of fire lower the value of property?  Is the lot more difficult to sell given the fire risk?

Is there a fire plan, approved by the Fire Chief, in place for the LB proposal? Can the public review it?  In rural CA – some new homeowners are unable to purchase fire insurance due to previous fires in the area. Would this be the case here?

Cynthia Moffitt, 205 Perkins Lane, Lopez WA