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Island County gives away shorelaine to save home

As the cliff below a $424,000 home erodes, Island County officials are doing nothing to save it, choosing instead to give the land below the home to the home’s owners so that they can make repairs to a bulkhead.

On Monday, Island County Commissioners approved a boundary line adjustment that gives a portion of beach near Libbey Beach to William and Susan Goodman. This will allow the Goodmans to add to the bulkhead or find another option to stop the erosion under their home.

Shoreline Planner Joe Burcar said that the erosion has noticeably increased over the last several years.

“The property owners to the south have had some problems with their property,” Burcar said. “It appears there’s some toe erosion that is causing some large chunks of bluff to fall off.”

The cause of the problem appears to be a bulkhead near the south end of the county parks department’s property. It runs parallel with the beach, but a small portion of it turns toward the cliff. Burcar said that wave action and strong currents have sped up the toe erosion, which is when the cliff is undermined.

He said that chunks of the cliff as large as four or five feet have fallen. Since the erosion was threatening the house, the owners wanted the fastest solution possible, said Betty Kemp, the county’s risk manager. The county decided to alter the Goodmans’ property boundary to include the bulkhead.

The Goodman’s did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Kemp said that the couple originally proposed paying the county for the repair of the bulkhead, but the county’s legal department undermined that plan. The county could have kept the property and allowed the Goodmans to come onto the county’s property to fix the problem, but giving them the land was a quicker process. The expedited process could allow for a fix to be in place before the winter storms begin rolling in, Kemp said.

Their home, which according to the county assessor’s office is valued at $424,000, sits precariously at the cliff’s edge. It is easy to see from the beach below how the fear of losing the home exists.

Island County has actually closed access to the beach, with a chain-link fence blocking progress down a steep trail that the waves have eaten away at.

“We worry about the kids not knowing about the erosion,” Kemp said.

“The park property is really where the bulk of the erosion is happening,” Burcar said.

The couple was allowed to build their home three years ago even though it is in such close proximity to a steep bluff, which is protected by the county’s critical areas ordinance.

An exemption to the ordinance allows for people to have a reasonable use on their property, Burcar said.

“By law, they’re able to build on some portion of their lot,” he said. “But we didn’t forsee the rapid rate of erosion on the property.”

The clause essentially says that even if much a property is constrained by regulations, the property owner should be able to use it if he or she wishes.

“The fundamental idea is that something can be done on a property to use that property,” Burcar said.

Much of Whidbey sits above high bluffs, especially the west side of the Island. Burcar said the erosion patterns of the shoreline are hard to predict. Wave and wind actions are random, and at times chaotic.

“They’re not always slight,” Burcar said. “The shoreline is so dynamic that something can change a half mile down the beach and affect your property.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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