Fence back up, James Way debate continues

Published on Thu, Aug 28, 2003
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Fence back up, James Way debate continues

by Shanna Green

A fence has been re-erected around the Birch Bay lot known as James Way, an undeveloped 10-foot county right-of-way, that has recently been the subject of beach access debate.

The easement runs along a beach-front lot owned by Evelyn Christensen and the subject of vacating this easement recently went before county council. However, the council denied the vacation citing too many unanswered questions about whether or not it does or was ever intended to provide public access.

Gary Baxter, who lives north of Christensen�s lot, said he had originally put the fence up around the entire lot several years ago. Baxter said that when the right-of-way went up for vacation, Roger Almskaar, the land use consultant for the case, asked him to open the 10-foot easement, which the fence was blocking.

Almskaar stated unless anyone holding a deed to the easement was given access to it, it would not be legal to keep the fence across it.

After the county denied the vacation, Almskaar said that it would be up to the new owners of the lot to keep the easement open or to gate it, but provide access to deed holders.

Who in fact is a deed holder of the easement is in question. Almskaar said there are only a few private deed holders who have legal access to the easement, but others disagree.

Carol Ann Brewer said her father, Cecil Rice, has a deed which may apply to James Way. Brewer is awaiting the results from the Whatcom Land Title Company, but said that no one really seems to know exactly where the deed applies to. She said the deed has a description of the land, but when she went to the spot, it was someone�s garage.

�What they�re (the title company) thinking is that possibly the access was switched over to James Way,� Brewer said. �There�s been a lot of mistakes made, and they�re pretty stumped about this whole thing.�

Almskaar said that while many people claim to have access to James Way, and others claim it is public access, there is no proof. �Despite all of the claims that have been made by the people in the area, you can�t find any writing on it,� Almskaar said. �Claims people make about secret deals and secret deeds, how do you respond to irrational arguments?�

Brewer said she was still convinced many areas that used to be public access are now gone, and said she wants to know how it happened.

�It�s a mistake what has happened,� Brewer said. �Lot lines and beach reserves have been disappearing and it just isn�t right.�

Almskaar said he did not ask Baxter to close the easement after the vacation was denied and said he was unaware that the gate had been extended across it again.

David Lang, the realtor for the property, was also unaware that anything had changed with the area or that the fence had ever been moved. Lang said an offer has been accepted on the property and the sale is pending. The new owners are aware of the right-of-way and easement and will have to build a house with those in mind, he added.

Baxter said he was unaware that James Way may have provided any type of public access and that he extended the fence back over the easement after the vacation was denied.

�He blocked off an access that we�ve been using,� Carol Ann Brewer said. �The county has let so many things slip through.�

Baxter could not be reached for further comment and Christensen�s lawyer Steve Shropshire did not return calls.

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