Editorial: Save our road ends

The Island County Commissioners did the right thing in risking an expensive legal fight by defending the right of the people to gain access to Puget Sound through the end of a public road.

Since the state of Washington disastrously sold off most of its publicly owned Puget Sound tidelands in the middle of last century, the public’s right to reach the beach has been greatly curtailed. Almost all the waterfront property on Whidbey Island and elsewhere around Puget Sound is privately owned, with the exception of state and county parks which comprise only a small fraction of waterfront property.

As a result, in many areas the only access to the beach is where a public road ends, offering a 30-feet swath of access. Local residents are the only ones aware of some road-ends, while others are listed in publications.

One such road-end is Wonn Road in Greenbank where a property owner gained notoriety by building a wall where one had never been before. The wall keeps the general public away from an access it has enjoyed for years.

The property owner argues that he’s been paying taxes on the access spot in question, and that the wall simply keeps people from driving across his septic system. Others say he’s just trying to keep the public out of an area that’s been open to everyone for generations.

Land ownership issues can be complex, and this appears to be such a case. The county could have given up, citing the cost of a legal battle, but correctly decided to fight for the people’s right to beach access through a road-end.

While we’re on the subject, it would be a worthy county project to identify all the public road-ends on Whidbey Island and make sure they’re still accessible to the public. Adjoining property owners sometimes take them over, or let weeds and sand obscure them. Few, if any, are marked as public access points.

The county can’t afford to buy waterfront access in today’s economy, but it can preserve what little remains. Fighting for the Wonn Road access is a good start.

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