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As picnic looms, county may take beach access to court

Greenbank resident Bruce Montgomery put up a wall to prevent people from driving over his septic system or visiting the beach. He says the beach is his private property, but a local Save Our Beaches group believes it’s always been a public access point.  - Submitted photo
Greenbank resident Bruce Montgomery put up a wall to prevent people from driving over his septic system or visiting the beach. He says the beach is his private property, but a local Save Our Beaches group believes it’s always been a public access point.
— image credit: Submitted photo

A land dispute involving beach access in Greenbank is probably headed to court.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she will ask fellow commissioners to support a resolution authorizing the Island County prosecutor to bring appropriate legal action to confirm and restore public access to the beach, tidelands and water at the end of Wonn Road.

“I think we need a judicial determination on this,” she said after the commissioners discussed the issue in executive session Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Greenbank resident Glen Russell, founder of the Save Our Beaches group, organized a public picnic on the easement near the beach, which is not far from the Greenbank Farm. The picnic is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, March 21.

“The picnic is meant to be a public gathering open to all residents and guests to celebrate the beautiful setting that is Greenbank and to raise public awareness of the intention of a select few to deny the public their sole and long-held access to the beach,” Save the Beach members wrote in an email to officials and friends.

The message raises the possibility of a confrontation between the picnickers and Bruce Montgomery, an adjacent homeowner who is convinced that the beach belongs to him and was never in public ownership.

“If any confrontation ensues, all present are expected to graciously accept the guidance of the picnic organizers, and in no case engage in any conversation of an insulting nature,” the message states. “Greenbank Road is a public road and the public has every right to the use of its 40-foot wide easement.”

Montgomery constructed a stone wall on the site to dissuade people from going to the beach and driving over his septic system. If the issue goes to court and he loses, he will have to tear it down.

Speaking by phone from California Wednesday, Montgomery said he was uncertain if he would be present for Saturday’s picnic. He said he only learned about it when contacted by the Sheriff’s Office.

“I have to decide what I’m going to do,” Montgomery said. “It’s a trespass. ... Having a picnic on somebody’s beach is a little tacky.”

He said Russell has “completely fabricated history,” in saying the property in question is public. “It never was in private ownership, even the (defunct) dock was private,” he said.

Montgomery strongly maintains he owns the property, and cites property taxes assessments as proof. He’s been paying taxes on it for years. He said the county recently asked him to donate the access to the public, but said it wouldn’t make sense to give up land in the middle of his property.

He said he’s never denied use of the beach to anyone who asked, and pointed out that 27 other property owners in the Greenbank plat have beach rights through the access.

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