Submitted by Rami Amaro
The Amaro family asked the county and trust to deal with repercussions resulting from the public’s use of the family’s private property. Such use resulted in trespass, theft, damage, injury, noise, fire, garbage, hazardous waste (condoms, human feces, drug needles), animal feces, loose dogs, threats requiring a protection order and liability risk. The family had been amiable to agreeing to public access to the entirety of the 250-acre preserve via the easement in exchange for garbage receptacle with service; restrooms where the family could not see or smell them; fence between the properties’ boundary; and indemnity. The family felt that those items would minimize the repercussions and protect the family should a member of the public be injured or damaged and sue the family.
The county and trust refused to offer even one of these items and instead told the Amaros to go get leverage. The family attempted to speak with the county council and county manager, however, only one would speak with them and simply suggested mediation. The family twice offered mediation, which was rejected. That left the family with no choice but to file suit. That suit was the subject of a recent summary judgment hearing.
At the hearing, the court agreed with the family that the easement was not allowed to be used to access almost one-third of the preserve. That property must now be accessed via Lawson Road. The judge also agreed with the family that the easement could not be expanded to access to the Town of Friday Harbor easement or other properties that might be purchased by the county or trust. Finally, the judge agreed that the county and trust could not have a second gate or a fence on the easement areas and noted several times that the repercussions the family was experiencing were the result of negligent management, which would be dealt with at trial.
The judge disagreed regarding the general public’s access to the remaining approximate two-thirds of the preserve via the family’s private property, and the family is in the process of determining whether to appeal that decision.
What has changed for the family? Not much at this point. The general public is still traversing their private property to reach a portion of the preserve. That may change if the family appeals.
What has changed for the county and trust? Quite a bit. Almost one-third of the preserve must now be accessed by Lawson Road. The easement can no longer be used to access the Town of Friday Harbor property, future property purchases or countywide trails. They cannot reinstall the illegally placed gate and they must remove the illegally placed fence. They will still be held accountable for negligent management when the suit goes to trial, which may result in orders regarding garbage disposal, fencing, liability and restrooms. In summary, the county and trust spent a lot of money, lost a lot of ground, and will likely end up having to provide the family with exactly what they originally asked for, but with far less in return.