'Wall of Whidbey' blocking 100 years of public beach access

GREENBANK, Wash. -- The wealthy homeowner who built a wall to block a century of public access to a cherished Whidbey Island beach tells KOMO 4 News it's his land and he's got the documents to prove it.

Bruce Montgomery, a successful developer of pharmaceuticals who lives in Medina, has two beach homes near Greenbank at the end of Wonn Road. And now there is a stone wall crossing the foot of Wonn Road that once extended an additional 15 yards providing access to the beach.

He says there may have been 100 years of public access to the beach. But he says he has documents showing Island County has billed the landowners for taxes for 100 years as well.

Montgomery said, despite local press reports, he has not offered $100,000 - formally or informally - to settle the county's lawsuit against him over the wall. He said he's merely put the idea on the table. Before a county commissioners meeting July 19, Montgomery said: "I'd rather spend my money helping the county secure a piece of beach that is usable than paying lawyers. I'm willing to contribute a significant amount of money and help fundraise a secure beach access for my fellow citizens. However, I will not likely be as generous spending my money fighting a lawsuit."

"Oh, it's aggravating!" said Mike McVay, a member of Island Beach Access, a Whidbey Island advocacy group. "You have an individual that, in my mind, these are decent people - the Montgomery's are. I know they would not go into a store and steal an apple. But for some reason he feels justified in taking a public road."

Montgomery bristled at that characterization.

McVay is among many on Whidbey Island who see the little public road as a big deal, accessing a gorgeous beach on an island where they take public access to beaches very seriously.

"And it's the only access to the beach anywhere in this part of the island!" he said.

It's just east of the well-known Greenbank Farms, at the end of Wonn Road. There are even remnants of a pier into the water there. For more than a century, as historic photos show, the pier was the key public access for Greenbank and Central Whidbey Island.