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Picnic puts focus on beach access

A community picnic planned for Saturday is shining a hot spotlight on an unresolved controversy over beach access in Greenbank.

Glen Russell, founder of the Save Our Beaches group, organized the gathering at the beach at the end of Wonn Road, near the Greenbank Farm. The picnic is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 21.

“It’s the site of the old community picnics in Greenbank up through the 1960s,” Russell explained. He’s frequented the site, which is the only public beach access in Greenbank, for the last 38 years.

The problem is that the adjacent homeowner, Bruce Montgomery, believes the beach belongs to him and was never in public ownership. He even put up a rock wall to keep folks out and to stop them from driving over his septic system.

Montgomery could not be reached for comment this week.

Russell said he’s frustrated that the issue hasn’t been resolved by Island County officials even though it’s been ten months since the wall went up. The county hired a legal consultant and the prosecutor’s office has been researching the issue, but nothing has been decided.

“It’s a priceless piece of property,” Russell said, “and I don’t think public property rights are being defended here.”

County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said the commissioners are having an executive session today to discuss the issue. At this point, it’s unclear what would happen if Montgomery were to call the police to remove the picnickers.

Price Johnson said she understands the frustration of people like Russell, but she said the issue is very complex and contentious.

“There’s a lot of history on that little stretch of beach,” she said, adding that the commissioners are committed to preserving public access.

County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he can’t discuss exactly what the legal research has uncovered, though he said there was a “strange set of conveyances.”

“There’s a question of exactly how much of the beach is available to the public,” he said.

While the picnic has forced the issue to the forefront, Russell said the purpose is really to have a peaceful gathering and to show folks where the access is located.

“We’re asking people to bring daffodils to put on the wall,” he said. “It’s pretty ugly.”

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