A room full of environmentalists erupted in surprised applause today after conservative Rick Hannold made a decision to support their views on beach access at the last minute.
Hannold refused to support a motion made by Commissioner Jill Johnson “in light of recent discovery…” at Island County’s regular board meeting.
The board was considering a legal settlement with a Greenbank-area property owner who has claimed beach access at Wonn Road as his own. The issue has been the subject of litigation from a few parties, including Island County. More than 100 people attended and around 50 signed up to speak against the settlement they said was a loss for the county. Residents urged the commissioners not to settle but to continue to pursue the issue in court.
“My big concern here is that you not vote this settlement in favor of a xenophobic millionaire,” said Art Huffine. “The settlement is bogus.”
“This beach is my beach, this beach is your beach,” said Robin Llewellyn, gesturing to the audience. “Forever.”
“We get riled up when we think it’s a railroad job and you’ve already made up your mind,” said Tom Gunn.
Hannold seemed to change his mind mid-decision as he grappled between his stated arguments of protecting the individual property owner and voting based on public comment.
“Within the last 24 hours… that adds another dimension to this,” Hannold said about the emails, comments and petitions received by commissioners.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who urged fellow commissioners not to pass the measure, commended Hannold for his vote.
“It is the right way for this county to proceed,” Price Johnson said. “I applaud your stance.”
The settlement would have stipulated, if accepted by a judge, that the Wonn Road beach access would remain in the possession of the property owner Bruce Montgomery for no less than 10 years or until he dies. In exchange they offered to purchase an alternate east-island waterfront property for the county and donate additional water front property along Ledgewood. Speakers rejected the exchange.
“Another substitute is just not as good. It sets a bad precedent…” said Charles Nielzialkiwski. “This is all a big poker game. I urge you not to fold your hand.”
Commissioner Johnson, the sole defender of the settlement, argued that the county could lose the property permanently during the lawsuit and that the settlement was a way to ensure ownership long term.
“What this conversation for me has always been, how do we guarantee that we don’t lose any more shoreline?” Johnson said. “It secures it for us for the future.”
Without the settlement, the county’s lawsuit against Montgomery over Wonn Road picks up where it left off.
Steve Todd, an attorney who has joined the fight with attorney Jane Seymour with the Island Beach Access group, said they will be looking to set a court date.
Todd, a long time trial lawyer in Seattle, called the case a “slam dunk” for beach access.
“I think the commissioners heard us both because of the public beach access and that the county has a good case,” Todd said. “We’re looking forward to taking it to court.”