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Road-ends work needs volunteers
For an island with some 53 miles of shoreline, Bainbridge Island might as well be landlocked when it comes to public access to the water. As one longtime islander once said, “It’s painful to live on an island and not be able to have more access to the water than we do.” Unfortunately, there is a dearth of pleasant, sandy beaches because much of the shore is inaccessible because of cliffs or is privately owned. And these days, arguably courts lean more toward the rights of the privileged than the public.
Eagle Harbor and Fort Ward State Park are the only public boat launches, though Ocean Drive at the southern tip of Rolling Bay is available for the smallest of boats. For years, the north end of the island had an excellent boat launch at Fay Bainbridge State Park, but the state grew tired of clearing the ramp of silt and let it fill in some 10 years ago. Now, north-end boaters without yacht club access end up going to Poulsbo much of the time.
And then, there are the island’s 58 official road ends, which are supposed to be avenues for public use since state law enacted in the early 1970s said that public roads leading to water can’t be vacated by private landowners. Kitsap County and then the City of Bainbridge have recognized the law over the years, but between a lack of public funding and litigious landowners the city’s Road Ends Committee has been able to open only about a third of the road ends to public access. And most of those were the easy ones.
With the more difficult and complicated projects looming, the city admirably decided to fund for three years about $100,000 annually through 2009 for road-end development. The goal was to have the funding improve some of the more important and costly road ends, such as Fletcher Landing, which involved a considerable amount of work, several city permits and stiff challenges by landowners. When the money ran out at the end of 2009, the committee would then disband.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. The committee couldn’t use the funding for permits, which could cost between $4,000 and $8,000 if the work requires a determination of non-significance – which is often the case. All of which is moot these days since the city had to shut off the faucet completely a few months ago because of its current financial dilemma.
Committee members believe in what they are doing, but there’s no doubt they are frustrated by the funding shortfall and well-heeled landowners who don’t want people invading – or parking on or near – their property. Hey, a king’s castle is always worth fighting for.
The committee, for example, asked the city’s Harbor Committee to help it establish the Portway road end in the Port Madison area, which the committee believes is a 100-foot-wide public right-of-way. But property owners argue that it’s not a roadway and let the city know they would challenge any such action. Obviously, the city is in no position these days to fight a lengthy legal battle.
So the committee is doing what it can. It recently worked with the park district and volunteers to build a modest trail to Olallie Lane at the tip of Battle Point. Members of the work party rolled up their sleeves, tore out bushes and brambles and moved rocks to open up the road end. It was a fulfilling accomplishment that showed what people can do for the good of a neighborhood.
Many roadblocks lie ahead, of course, but it appears Hidden Cove isn’t one of them. A developer who had threatened to challenge the existence of a public right-of-way at the western end of the road if he bought land bordering it, has decided against buying the land. Instead, neighbors say a nice young couple has purchased the acreage and apparently has no designs on the road end.
How very neighborly of them.