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Commissioners pass on chance to purchase South Whidbey beach property
Island County leadership passed on a chance to apply for grants that would allow them to acquire beach access properties adjacent to Glendale on South Whidbey.
Commissioners Kelly Emerson and Jill Johnson said they could not support acquiring more park land, even through grants, if it means additional maintenance costs down the road.
“I realize this is just the first step, but I really hate to see us spending any time or money on this,” Emerson said. “We already have no money to take care of our parks. I am not in favor of obtaining any more property.”
The discussion was raised during a March 5 work session. The two commissioners agreed the grant applications, which would have been submitted in partnership with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, would result in the county taking on the upkeep.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson was not present at the work session.
While another grant aimed at improvements at Trillium Community Forest was tabled until March 19, it is unlikely that the Glendale grant applications will resurface at the county level without majority board support.
“Island Beach Access (IBA) seems to have a lot of money, maybe they will run with this,” Johnson said during the work session.
When asked to respond to Johnson’s comment, IBA leader Mike McVay said, “She’s right.”
“We don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll do it. If you don’t want to pay taxes to do something, you just do it. We are going to offer our services absolutely. The thing at Glendale is a great opportunity to restore that to a public facility.”
Mindy Thompson, whose family has lived just a half-mile from the Glendale beach access for 40 years, said the community has already lost one local beach and really hopes they can hang onto the one at Glendale.
“The fear of losing our beach access is huge,” Thompson said.
A worst-case scenario would be if a private owner came in and eliminated the public’s ability to access the water.
“We’ve been walking that beach all our lives,” Thompson said. “We just want access to open beach without being harassed.”
The grant applications totaled $900,000 and would acquire two parcels that would provide beach access, parking and a boat ramp. Existing structures would need to be demolished.
Public Works Director Bill Oakes said the Glendale properties would be a good acquisition as a mitigation measure due to its history of flooding, but that the county would need to apply for additional grants to complete the project.
Emerson said not only does the county already have beach access points and parks that are not maintained, but a major park funding source ends in 2016 causing counties to need replacement funding for park maintenance.
“We need to take care of what we have first before we add more,” Johnson said Thursday. “Just acquiring without the means to maintain is irresponsible. Sometimes, as hard as it is to say no, you need to say no.”
She said despite the eagerness of the beach access group to help maintain it, Johnson said she would not be willing to reconsider her position.
“Dealing with the shoreline is technical, expensive and time consuming,” Johnson said. “If it was cheap and easy, I wouldn’t hesitate. I love their passion, I want to say yes, but it’s irresponsible. I hate that that’s the truth, but it’s the truth.”
Price Johnson said Thursday she was disappointed that the Glendale grant talks weren’t delayed until they could all be present because she thinks its an important opportunity.
“Buying is in the public interest,” Price Johnson said, because it could prevent both future flood damage and provide prime beach access.
Despite IBA’s eagerness to assist, Price Johnson agrees that the county would still have to be the land owner and shoulder the responsibility.
Price Johnson said she has reached out to both the South Whidbey Port District and the South Whidbey Park District for assistance for this and other beach access locations.
“I know that our community values public beach access, and it’s gonna take us pulling together and sharing resources,” Price Johnson said.
“We need think outside the regular box.”