Letter from Holly Page Bryant

San Juan County Land Bank
San Juan County Council
Port of Lopez Commission

My family has owned a piece of land that is attached to this “close to two miles of nearly pristine beach” in question for nearly 25 years. For the entire time that we have owned this property we have considered ourselves Stewards of this land. In nearly every instance that we have spent time on that “pristine beach” we have packed out trash, mostly plastic, that the wildlife on the beach and in the water could mistake as food with deleterious results. To say nothing of just putting a halt, as much as we are able, to the ugliness of human detritus on this very beautiful stretch of beach. I do not say this here to gain accolades. This is the behavior that quite simply is what both of my parents, Joanne and Trevor Bryant, have instilled in their three children my sister, Jennifer Hulett-Guard, myself, Holly Page Bryant and my brother, Trevor Bryant. Through us and through our examples it has been passed to next generation in our family my nephew, Cullen Bryant and my niece McKenna Bryant. Through my parents leading us by example, we have always been taught to be of service. Many of you, my fellow Lopezians, have had first hand encounters with my parent’s and their deep, heartfelt commitment to service of this Island.

I write this because in is in great part the reason that this stretch of beach is in the pristine condition that you find it today. Our family are far from the only ones who feel this deep level of Stewardship to this land. We are definitely not the only landowners who have worked very hard to keep this beach a place where wildlife is allowed to thrive with very little encroachment by humans and our debris. It has been well elucidated within other people’s testimony just how many and diverse wild inhabitants this beach call home from nesting Bald Eagles to the mother Sea Lions from colony on Shark Reef that here, on this wild beach, have an undisturbed place to haul out and leave their pups in safety. The attached photo represents the amount of debris that just one of us might haul off the beach in one single hour and a half walk.

Then there are the beach fires and the illegal fireworks. I personally have stopped three fires that were set by people trespassing on private property. The people in question could not name a single family whose land they were setting on fire. Regarding fireworks there have been no less than a dozen times that I have stopped people from using the beach to light off illegal fireworks, from bottle rockets to firecrackers. One woman could not understand why I was stopping her child from having “fun” on the 4th of July. That “fun” included lighting firecrackers and throwing them into driftwood and onto parts of the adjacent bank. These were just the ones that I stopped…when it clearly is posted all over our Island that ALL fireworks are illegal on Lopez Island because of the fire danger that they represent.
The fire danger. That is a very real nightmare that we as landowners, and the families of landowners, live with constantly. I became a Lopezian when my disability forced me to move in with my parents back in the beginning of June of this last Summer. One of the very first things that my father said to me when I arrived here was that we were “on our own” if a fire ever broke out on our property due to the inaccessible nature of most of our land. That is no slight what so ever on our wonderful Fire Dept.! It is just a fact of where we live. Our land is difficult to reach and unlike the City that I moved here from…there are no handy fireplugs! That does not even address the steep bank that leads down to the our beach portion of our property. That bank is far too hazardous to climb without staying on our pathway. It would be risking your very life to try to fight a fire on the bank. Needless to say when I found someone chucking flames (firecrackers) into that same bank I was not happy. Especially when the woman in question decided that I was simply “out to spoil the 4th of July for her child”. She literally waited until I walked away to start right back up again…because she did not care about the wildlife that she was terrifying, nor did she care about the very REAL fire danger that every Lopezian lives with during our hot and dry summers, she did not care that she was endangering not just my parent’s home but, all the homes of every other family that lives along this beach as well. I had to stop her three different times! It was not her home so she simply did not care that she was teaching her child that it was okay to endanger other people’s property. There is literally NO WAY to stop a fire on this long stretch of beach if one ever got ahold of the bank.

So, you can probably imagine the dismay that I felt when I saw a notice in late November proclaiming that there was a great opportunity for the Land Bank to purchase “the Clure Properties” which would allow public access to nearly two miles of pristine beach…the very beach that is owned by my family and many other families. I saw that the Land Bank had posted the map of how to get to our beach online. That the Land Bank was extolling the beauty of this secluded beach and that you could bring your families down for long walks at sunset. It spoke of being able to put in a parking lot and how there could be “easy” access for people with limited mobility. All in order to “save” this beach. They even used the term “West Side Beach Preserve” saying that by purchasing the “Clure Properties” we would be saving this beach from future development. I asked my father what was going on, when did the Land Bank speak with him or any of the other landowners? The simple truth is that they did not. Nor were the Land Bank being truthful when they said that this purchase was necessary in order to “save this beach from future development”. The parcels of land contiguous with this beach are not zoned to allow development. They are zoned for single families homes. The only “development” that has ever been brought to question in the whole time we have owned our portion of this beach, or for that matter, for as long as this beach has been in existence, is the development that the Land Bank is trying for right now…the parking lot, the easy access for the disabled, the public access to two miles of beach. What the Land Bank did not explain was that for the greater part this beach is indeed privately owned property. Nor did it explain just how there would be “easy” access for people with mobility problems. The wash, that is where the “access” to the beach is steep and treacherous. It is where all the water runoff from the airport is diverted. The Port purchased the right to do that when the uncontrolled water runoff was damaging properties adjacent to the airport. The Port also purchased from the Clures the right to fence off any access to the beach and they own the land that I have been told is right where The Land Bank proposes to have access to the “Clure Properties”and to place a parking lot upon.

I spent the next few weeks trying to discover just what they were talking about when the Land Bank said that this was a public beach that we, as landowners, have been “keeping all to ourselves”. There is a portion of this beach that is in the public domain, the tide flats, except where the adjoining property purchased the tide flats along with their property. There is at least one of these such pieces of property along this “two mile” stretch…meaning that you would have to trespass on private property to walk all two miles even if you stayed on the tide flats. The other thing about tide flats is that they are literally underwater most of the time. This means that for you to walk along most of the sandy areas of this beach or sit down on most of the driftwood, you are trespassing on private property. The public portion of the beach consists of rocks, which in many areas are completely covered in seaweed or eel grass. If that didn’t make the going tough enough, many of the tide flats shelve off at a fairly steep angle down into the Channel. The posted “long walk at sunset” would have to be accomplished with a pair of waders since the public portion of this land is underwater most every sunset. At most the purchase of the “Clure Properties” would give the public about 250 feet of sand and driftwood that they could legally cross to get to the public tide flats.

I discovered that there had been several “public forums” talking about this “wonderful and nearly pristine beach” and what “we” could do to “save” it. I was incredibly surprised to discover two things. One, The Land Bank, which I thought was a group that was to preserve land on Lopez as close to pristine as possible, was not about preservation. I had donated some of what little money I have to this group thinking that it was to hold areas of our Island from being developed, so that the future generations of Lopezians may have the beauty of the wild nature of Lopez that we now enjoy. Secondly, I was greatly disappointed with some of the “conversations” that were cropping up in regards to this beach. We who own this land were told that we were being “elitist” or being “NIMBY” to try to protect our own property and especially if we were trying to protect this beach of which we have been for decades such very, very careful Stewards. I didn’t even know what NIMBY meant…Not In My Back Yard. A term to mean that if you object to development next to your property you are just being NIMBY. That other people’s “rights” to that development outweigh your own rights. Unfortunately, this is not near my back yard…this IS my backyard, and the backyard of many, many other people. Many people chimed in with claims that it was just our tough luck that the public will trespass on our property, that they wished, they wanted to, they coveted, (yes that was the exact word used) the beach that we owned. Some believed that posting signs telling people what part of the beach was public and what part was private property would be more than enough…especially if those same signs had the tide tables on them which showed when the public beach was underwater. I am pretty sure that no amount of signage will keep people from trespassing. Some said that the purchase was great even if it means that only 250 ft. of real beach was public. Does anyone really think that the public will stop when the rest of the beach looks so empty and inviting? No. Even the people who I share this Island with, my fellow Lopezians, have called me names for what…truly for what? For being one of many, many great Stewards of this stretch of beach. I am not elitist for being part of a family who saved for years to buy land up here on Lopez. I am not being NIMBY for not wanting to deal with trespassers, and trash, and the very, very real potential for this whole precious beach and the banks where the wildlife live to go up in flames along with our homes. Will the Land Bank insure every one of the homeowners for fire, or for accidents that any of the trespassers incur when they are on our property? I was even told in one of these Blogs that the beach isn’t visible from my house so why should I care. Really? Then there are those who say that this would be “our little Lopez Island secret”, that no one from the “outside” would even know about it. I guess that might be true if Iceberg Point was still completely covered in lichens and was pristine…without new “trails” crisscrossing delicate meadowland, or if Watmough Bay didn’t have nearly 18,000 visitors last year. The proposed access point to the Clures land is right by where over 19,000 people passed by in order to get to Shark Reef Park. It is not even remotely possible to keep this a secret if the sale and proposed use is allowed to go through.

It seems to boil down to this. First off the Clures insist that all their properties be purchased in order to gain the one piece that has beach access since “opening this property up to the public will lower the property value of the remaining pieces”. There is no provision in the sales agreement to compensate any of the other property owners that will be directly effected by this sale. Secondly, the Clures have already sold some of the access rights and the piece of property adjacent to the roadway that would allow any one to reach the Clure’s remaining properties to the Port. The Port would have to agree to mass trespassing on their land. This is land right at the far Southern edge of the airport. I see this as being potentially very dangerous. As well as there seems to be some possibility that the Clures already sold the beach access to the Port. Thirdly, the Clures insist on having the Land Bank pay them over a million dollars for the three parcels. Last time I checked on properties that the Land Bank has been trying to save, they did not have enough money to complete their own plans that are currently in the works. This is a huge amount of money. The Land Bank actually had a “fundraiser “to raise $50,000.00 to “secure the right to this purchase”…without allowing any input from the public. They just told people that it was to “Save two miles of pristine beach”, they did not explain that the access to this beach is through a wash that the Port uses to drain away excess water, they did not say that the beach was actually mostly privately owned, the public portion of the beach is underwater most of the time, nor did they say that this whole thing was rushed through without any input from the surrounding landowners, no research on what this would mean to the wildlife, nothing but, “look at how much wonderful beach we are try to secure for you.”. which is not an accurate representation of the facts.

I am truly sorry to have found out that some of my fellow Lopezians would rather trample on our property rights if those same rights get in the way of what they want. That was not how I was raised. My parents raised me to be of service to my fellow human beings, to honor all of their rights ,not just the convenient ones, and to be good Stewards of our land. and of our Planet. I am ever grateful to them for teaching us those simple rules to live by.

For all of these reasons I respectfully ask The San Juan County Land Bank, The Port of Lopez Commission, The San Juan County Commissioners and the San Juan County Council put a halt any proposed acquisition of the Clure Properties.

Holly Page Bryant