Tilting with windmills on San Juan Island | Guest column

By Steve Ulvi

San Juan Island

I am compelled to respond to repeated inflammatory opinion pieces by the editor of one of our local media outlets. The gist is that our county land bank employs “bullying” tactics while some un-neighborly folks, some named and others not, are disrespecting Lance and Rami Amaro and obstructing their “farm dreams” on property adjacent to Mt. Grant Preserve. The properties are cheek to jowl and both currently fine examples of preservation of sizable scenic island landscapes.

To charge county bullying and dishonest intentions as if there are concerted efforts to thwart the dreams of the Amaros, or anyone else, is untethered to reality. These editorials are contrary to their own titles as well as an abuse of logical construction and balanced journalism. Tabloid journalism comes to mind. A refusal to publish the corrections from the land bank and responses like this is proof enough. The editor knows that the land bank cannot respond to these allegations because there is an ongoing lawsuit.

The metaphorical “bundle of sticks” that comprise private property rights vary a lot and real estate law is complicated. Easements and encumbrances are additional “sticks” and can be, well, sticky. Water rights are famously said to be “for fightin’ and whiskey for drinkin’” in the west. It is misleading to pen an “expose” without acknowledging some of the inherent and nuanced legal realities in this story.

The land bank staff and commissioners are regular folks, following rigid laws and policies to the best of their abilities, in our excitable fishbowl of island gossip, litigious inclinations and perpetuated falsehoods. They all work hard to fulfill “our mission” to purchase parcels and conservation easements for long-term management in the public interest. Today we still have one of the lowest percentages of public land in western Washington. Property dreams and development schemes require careful due diligence in protecting the rights of others and the greater public interest.

I have hiked or driven up Mt. Grant 25-30 times. Splendid. I have seen little trash anywhere, including in the disputed parking area at the entry. Very unusual for public land and a testament to mindful Land Bank stewardship.

The painting of the oracle rock to advertise one person’s dislike of the Amaros was stupid and unfortunate. Perhaps beer was involved? But words and phrases like “hatred” and “hate speech” and suggestions that the land bank “will have blood on its hands” in social media (if something bad happens…) are way out of bounds.

The Amaro Farm today is pretty enough but lacks the familiar earthy smells and sounds of a real farm operation. These biased editorials, more akin to blogs than journalism, have confused, rather than illuminated this situation. The Amaros are not blameless participants. If the intention of these editorials was to rejuvenate community cohesion and neighborly civility, those efforts have failed. A little like spraying gas on a smoldering house fire while giving lip service to “trying to save the place.”