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Court upholds public access

But the gate will stay at Fletcher Landing, pending further appeals.

Don’t get out the bolt cutters just yet.

The state Court of Appeals this week upheld an earlier decision favoring public access at the disputed Fletcher Landing road end. But neighbors who claim exclusive ownership of the road end say the locked gate will remain there while they consider their legal options.

“We are disappointed that our property rights were not protected by the court of appeals,” said Lisa Neal, one of the neighbors who have blocked access to the 40-foot-wide road end and tidelands for the past decade. “Until the matter is completely resolved, perhaps by a higher court, we hope everyone will continue to respect our property rights.”

The ruling upheld a 2002 decision by Kitsap Superior Court Judge Leonard Costello, who found that the road end had historically been used for public access to the water as a ferry landing. That right of way, the judge said, had never been relinquished.

Access fell into dispute in the mid-1990s, when neighbors with deeded interests in the tidelands used a padlocked gate to block public access. The city sued in 1999 and prevailed; neighbors appealed Costello’s findings, leading to this week’s decision.

Attorney and island resident Blair Burroughs, who represented the city, said he was not surprised that Costello’s ruling was upheld.

“It’s a longstanding idea dating back to when the territory was settled that if you had a road that went to the water, there was a reason for that: to allow people to go from the land-based highway to the water-based highway,” Burroughs said. “It’s not a terribly complicated concept.”

The locked gate will nevertheless remain for at least a few more months, while the neighbors weigh their legal options.

Burroughs said the neighbors can file a motion with the appeals court for reconsideration of the decision, or petition the Washington State Supreme Court for review. Barring a reversal by one of those courts, Burroughs said, “They’ve got to take the gate down, or the city will.”

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