Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Beach-walkers are still waiting for a legal answer

July 8th, 2010 by cdunagan

For 30 years, I’ve wondered about the Public Trust Doctrine and whether you and I have a right to walk across private tidelands throughout the Puget Sound area.

On a few occasions, I’ve written about the general principles of the Public Trust Doctrine, but last week I dug a bit deeper and came up with a story published in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

I’ve received a lot of nice comments about my balanced approach to the story. That’s much appreciated, given the contentious nature of this subject. As of this writing, the story has received 75 comments from readers. The discussion got so heated at one point that someone asked Kitsap Sun editors to call a halt to the debate. Comments are still coming in, and things have calmed down.

Please take a moment and weigh in with your opinion in the poll over in the right-hand column of this blog. Also, feel free to comment here, or join the discussion on the story itself.

So, do average citizens have the right to walk across someone’s private tidelands? As I explain in the story, this question cannot be answered today, because our state Supreme Court has never ruled on the subject. The Public Trust Doctrine certainly provides for a public right to float across private tidelands in a boat and to take fish and other creatures in conformance with state law.

Shellfish are another issue, however, since the state recognizes that these embedded creatures belong to the property owner in most cases.

The vast majority of waterfront property owners I interviewed for this story said they would not object to someone crossing their tidelands, provided the person does not cause any damage along the way. Some commenters added that people also should not pick up anything on the beach. Now this is another unanswered question for me, and perhaps one of you has the answer: Do beach-walkers or even people in a boat have the right to pick up something that washes in with the tide?

I seem to recall that visitors are not allowed pick up driftwood or other natural items that may be habitat for critters, which are generally protected under state law. But if a man-made item washes ashore, such as a glass float, does the property owner have a greater right to claim the object than someone walking along the beach? I don’t know, but perhaps this is one of these unresolved issues — such as where someone may walk legally.

Assistant Attorney General Joe Panesko, who has been researching the Public Trust Doctrine for an upcoming article, pointed out that some commenters seem confused about where property rights end on the shoreline. It is not a simple issue in Washington state.

As Joe describes it, the state once owned all the tidelands and still owns the vast majority of bedlands, which are below the extreme low-tide mark. Between 1899 and 1911, tidelands sold by the state went from the ordinary high tide line down to the mean low tide line. In 1911, the state changed the definition of tidelands to extend all the way down to extreme low tide.

The state also sold a separate category of lands for the cultivation of oysters under two 1895 laws, the Bush Act and the Callow Act. Most of these lands were identified with legal descriptions that included “metes and bounds” instead of tidal elevations. Perhaps because of imprecise surveys, some of these lands still go down below extreme low tide. (This relates to recent stories about “trespass” by shellfish growers. (See Water Ways, June 24.)

Panesko tells me that a big challenge for tideland owners is that legal descriptions on deeds have become muddled as property has changed hands over the years.

“I’ve seen many current deeds for waterfront properties that include tidelands but fail to articulate the exact tidal boundary of the tidelands,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Also, as your article hints at, establishing the exact location of tidal boundaries on the beach really does require the sophisticated services of a competent surveyor. GPS devices don’t help much with regard to tidal elevations.”

While the Washington State Supreme Court has not defined the limits of the Public Trust Doctrine, courts in other states continue to address the issue. In some states, water resources and even habitat for wildlife are being included as holdings in “public trust.”

The case for beach-walking was nip and tuck for the shores of the Great Lakes in Michigan as recently as 2005. In Glass v. Goeckel, property rights advocates were delighted in 2004, when the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that people could not walk along the beach unless their feet were in the water. (See Michigan Land Institute, July 27, 2004.). But about a year later, Michigan residents were back strolling the beach on dry land. (See MLI, Aug. 2, 2005.)

It is, as they say, an evolving matter of law.

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98 Responses to “Beach-walkers are still waiting for a legal answer”

  1. Robert Dashiell Says:

    Another very well written article.

    Bottom line is that it will take a Washington State Supreme Court case decision that has the scope and foundation to be applicable to the entire State to ever resolve the tidelands access issue.

    Too complicated for the state legislature to ever figure out, but that could be the foundation of a court based challenged.

    I’d guess the citizens of Washington State will know one way or another within the next 20 years.

  2. Dave Kimble Says:

    People with the tidelands ‘might’ have the money to get this clarified but for many property owners the risk of an adverse ruling far outweighs getting clarity, thus precluding an easy resolution. My hat remains off to Mr. Larson for giving it a good try. Afraid I have to 2nd Robert on the confidence vote of of our law body in Oly.

  3. William Reese Says:

    I fear that we will ultimately be subjected to Legislative action similar to Oregon’s “Oregon Beach Bill”. Oregon’s bill (HB1601) was Modeled on the concept of common law recognizing public recreational rights or easements to the ocean beaches in their entirety, and in all inlets and bays from the water to the vegetation line. The Highway Commission is given authority to protect the public’s rights. However, passage was not a shoo-in by any means. It was several years in the making, facing stiff opposition all the way.

    One little tidbit, not widely advertised, is that property owners with title to some of the affected property were given property tax breaks. Do you suppose that we Washingtonians could expect similar treatment?

  4. cjcampbell Says:

    The law was settled when the state sold the tidelands to private owners. Otherwise the owners paid money and received nothing at all in return for it. I have to ask, if tidelands are supposed to be “Public Trust,” what benefit did the owners receive when they bought the tidelands from the state? They are allowed to walk on the tidelands — but they were allowed to do that before. They are allowed to look at the tidelands — but they were allowed that, also. They might be allowed to build a dock, but that still requires permission from numerous agencies and actually owning the property is probably not necessary.

    What if you did a poll that asked whether homeless people should be allowed to move into your house uninvited, and a few people who thought that was a real good idea came and bumped up the poll numbers to show that a “majority” of people responding to the poll believe that you have no right to keep homeless people out of your house? Would you then support that?

    Your argument says that people should suffer any manner of intrusion into their private lives, their homes, and their property, just because they happen to own a piece of beach front. You are saying that their ownership is a lie, that they do not really own the property at all — it is up to polls to decide what people can do with their property. You are saying that you can take somebody’s money, but you don’t have to deliver what that person paid for if you don’t really want to give it up. If you don’t like the fact that somebody owns something you want, why, just do a poll and demand that the law take it away from them without paying them for it! This is your idea of fairness and justice. Not surprising the beach front owners tend to view things a little differently, eh?

  5. cjcampbell Says:

    William, I am not in favor of paying property taxes at all if the state is going to claim I do not really own the property.

  6. DannyBoy Says:

    \What if you did a poll that asked whether homeless people should be allowed to move into your house uninvited, and a few people who thought that was a real good idea came and bumped up the poll numbers to show that a “majority” of people responding to the poll believe that you have no right to keep homeless people out of your house? Would you then support that?\

    I had to jump in on that one. You are in no way comparing apples with apples. Walking down the beach is not much different than people walking down the street in front of my house. Most people are very considerate and just want to pass, but some leave trash or cigarette butts, their dogs use our flower bed as a urinal, and many times our flowers get picked. It’s all part of living in town.
    As far as taxes, I’m pretty sure that your taxes are figured to the mean high tide which means you most likely are not paying taxes on the tidelands below the high tide mark already.
    Oregon’s beach bill is a good model, hopefully someday we’ll get there too. I feel it should be the right of all Washington citizens to walk the beaches below the high tide line.

  7. Debra Olason Says:

    I live on the beach near Manchester and do not mind people walking on the beach, which actually rarely happens. I’ve been yelled at by other property owners when walking down the beach towards the Manchester Dock…I was told that the beach was \private\ according to the deed when we bought the property. Kind of irrelevant to me, as my main concern is my neighbors who continue to dump green waste in Puget Sound, fail to pick up their garbage and other garbage that floats in, and a few property owners with illegally built docks.

  8. John Says:

    Another typical Chris Dunnigan article desperately looking for conflict involving property owners. I guess with the economic bust in development he had to feature beach walking (once again). Chris, you are the reason why I stopped paying for the newspaper years ago. You’re NOT a neutral reporter at all for you are passionate about earthy things and all property being community owned – particularly when the public get it for free! You feature the same people (friends) in these articles as if they’re some kind of authority. The bottom line is if tidelands are deeded then it is private; however, most people are okay with respectful walkers and not much is likely to change anytime soon. Yawn.

  9. cjcampbell Says:

    “Walking down the beach is not much different than people walking down the street in front of my house.”

    Read more:

    Except that you do not own the street and the street is not part of your home or yard. You did not buy the street and then have people tell you that the street is not really yours. You have failed to show any significant difference between having people trespassing on your tidelands and having them trespass on any other part of your home or yard. Just because some of your yard is covered with water part of the day does not mean it is any less your yard. You have also not answered just what people are supposed to own if they paid for these tidelands. And you are wrong, owners of tidelands pay taxes on their whole property.

    Owners bought these tidelands for good and lawful consideration. Now some people want the state to renege on the deal. If that is justice, it is the justice of thieves.

  10. sggriffith Says:

    I just rented a waterfront property, and I was wondering about those people who walk up the bank into my yard (or what I thought was my yard ;-)

    I live between two parks on the Narrows, and I can’t believe that beach walking here would be restricted. Actually, I think beaches should be public, and what those who live here are paying for with higher taxes — and rent — are beautiful views and ready beach access.

    Of course it would be great to have a totally private beach, but I do acknowledge that this is a community, and I don’t mind sharing.

  11. J Ross Says:

    I live on the beach and have for 32 years. I have never told anyone they couldn’t walk on the beach. I do try to educate them. Please do not take shells (crabs and othes use them for housing). Please do not pull up any seaweed (its food and habitat). Please no not walk on barnacles (it kills them). Please do not turn over large rocks (habitat for many creatures). Need I go on and on? I’m the steward of my beach and you are only a visitor. I guess I’ll remain the wicked waterfront property owner. Oh yeah, I’m also rich but when they declare my property non-conforming and it decreases in value you’ll get to pay for the loss in county revenue. They spread it around to you. Thanks

  12. William Reese Says:

    Pretty good arguments all. I’m not so sure that my taxes do not include my tidelands, has someone got some informational source on that? As far as Oregon’s law being a model, their situation is a whole lot different than ours since their affected beaches are mainly ocean frontage.

  13. J Sanchez Says:

    Am born/raised in Hawaii and didn’t know that I was breaking the law when walking on an extreme low tide day from the Illahee community pier to the Illahee State Park. I can return the spent clam shells collected, but the trash picked up that day is long gone. I’ve never heard of such a thing as owning the beach. Thankfully it’s not practiced in my home State of Hawaii or else people wouldn’t want to visit and enjoy. That’s what makes it so wonderful. Aloha!

  14. DannyBoy Says:


    All I can say is, you better hope this issue never comes up for a vote.

  15. William Reese Says:

    I don’t object to folks walking on my beach, nor do I object to collection of shells, etc. I do object to folks who feel free to come into my yard, though. I would not dream of going into theirs uninvited, and expect them to extend me the same courtesy. My guess is that my attitude is fairly typical of most (not all) waterfront owners.

  16. DannyBoy Says:

    William Reese,
    I absolutely agree. I believe people walking on the beach should show respect and stay on the beach below the high tide line. Never should they or their pets roam on someones yard.

  17. J Sanchez Says:

    Can anyone explain to me what does “owns property to the mean tide line”? What’s this “mean tide line”? Thanks.

  18. cdunagan Says:

    The terminology can be confusing and a bit technical, but it is all based on the fact that we have two high tides and two low tides each day. One high tide occurs when the moon is overhead. The other high tide occurs when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth. Because of the continents and other factors, one of the high tides is generally higher than the other. Similarly, there are two low tides each day, and one is lower than the other one.

    The height of the tides changes day by day, depending on the relation of the sun to the moon and local geologic features that constrain the flow of seawater.

    So “mean low tide” would be the average of all the low tides that occur over a given time period (which I won’t describe). “Mean lower low tide” would be the average of all the lowest of the two daily tides. “Mean tide” would be the average of all the tides. And so on.

    Instead of the word tide, we often hear the word “mean lower low water” and such in legal descriptions.

    I think I have this right. If anyone would like to add something, please do so. Click on the image below for a more detailed explanation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  19. J Sanchez Says:

    So when a beach front property owner’s deed states that they own the beach to the “mean low tide”, does it include the rarer minus tides? And if it doesn’t, then are visitors allowed to walk and harvest shellfish in the minus areas where the water has receeded execeptionally?

  20. DocGeorge Says:

    I don’t think the issue of beach “walking rights” is a clear cut (relatively) as we have discussed. In England the right to pass over someone else’s property is not limited to just someone’s beach property it also includes passage across a field or pasture et cetera. The law requires that gates or steps over the fences be provided. At least in England it is a “turn about is fair play” kind of thing, not just the people that live on the beach.

    We all pay taxes equally on our property according to its’ value, but if my right to privacy is taken away then is not my property worth less. The County Assesor says no. I don’t know whether that has been tested in court yet, but do we want to reduce the tax base or spend more on lawyers?

    Any property owner is aware of the danger of being sued over a crack in the side walk or a board that someone trips over. If everyone is going to be able to walk across everyone else’s beach, who is liable? The beach owner is the most likely to be sued because they figure they can get some money out of the person.

    Since the County is letting people not only walk across peoples private property, but run their dogs off lease, people spending all day drinkin’ beer and letting the kids run wild, I think the county would be liable.

    A case in point. When I called the Sherriff’s office about the article on the 5th, they said “Oh! I didn’t know the law had changed”. Our prosecutor’s statements were news to the deputy. She thought I was calling about the trouble with theft and vandalism at the beach at Southworth Point. It has been a favorite place to go drinking for the teenagers for 16 years that I know of. The teenagers have learned to scoff at the law and laugh at the deputies because they are not smart enough to cover the exit when they, the deputies, go in the entrance. They are trying to stop the teens from hanging out there at the same time they are telling the same teens that there is “no such thing as private beach“.

    With these kinds of mixed messages, is it any wonder?

    Today I had to chase 4 groups of people (3 of which had off lease dogs) off my beach. I also had to call the State Patrol about people poaching Goeducks (not tribal harvesters) and had to deal with 2 squad cars worth of deputies that came out because somebody couldn’t see my swim suit (I also had shorts on over the swim suit) from the road which was 1000 feet away. The people on the beach were not just passing through; they were there for the day!

    Why would I want to let fashion critics on the beach or for that matter is calling the cops and making a false complaint likely to make me want them to return?

    If the county wants people to be able to walk on the beach, hang out on other people’s property, have their midnight drinking fests; then the County needs to provide restrooms, parking, lifeguards, trash receptacles and accept responsibility for damages and injury.

  21. mancunianpress Says:

    Dear Beach Doc:
    What a ‘beach’ of a day on the beach for you! I would be incensed to have such claims set down on me. A real drag. Claims you were nude on your own property? Very unique complaint. You think it is “kid” driven, or radical adults having fun? Did you pursue that one with the Sheriff? That has some “meat” to it I think. I am curious as to which shoreline this is all happening on since we aren’t getting that type of action here at Manchester, not even during the Wild and Woolly 4th of July’s. Now those events (here) are truly something to behold. I can appreciate why you’d have a tainted view about the public on the beaches, but take heart.. there is liability immunity for you available at no charge. Try looking back in the beginning of this blog to see the RCW cited on this immunity. I bet it would make you feel a little bit safer, what with being pursed so vigorously by those you chase. As you said, ‘turn-about’ (although I would not say fair in this instance) seems to apply here on “cross-complaints”. What can one do when the legal system ignores and merely dismisses as fence line disputes or neighborly disagreements?

  22. cdunagan Says:

    J Sanchez,

    I’m not a lawyer, but what you are asking are more basic questions than the uncertain Public Trust Doctrine.

    If a shoreline property owner does not own the tidelands to extreme low tide, then one needs to know who owns that lower property. Even if the state retains ownership to this tideland area, how are you going to get there? Can you stay on state land from a legal access point? You generally need permission to cross private upland property.

    As for shellfish harvesting, forget it unless you have permission in some form. The state regulates when and where shellfish may be taken, even on public property.


    I don’t believe the county “wants people to be able to walk on the beach …” I think it is 1) a matter of limited resources to enforce all varieties of violations all over the county, and 2) the uncertainty of the Public Trust Doctrine, which may or may not allow people to walk on the beaches.

    Public disturbance, theft, damage to natural resources, littering, trespassing and many other criminal and civil violations may give law enforcement and private individuals the right to intervene on the beaches or anywhere else. But the investigation and successful prosecution of a criminal or civil case should not be taken for granted.

    Do you fault the deputies for responding to a complaint about indecent exposure, or should the blame be placed on the person who may have filed a false complaint?

    As for changes in the law, the point of my story on July 5 was that the confusing legal status of the Public Trust Doctrine has remained unresolved in Washington state since 1969 and before.

  23. DocGeorge Says:

    Mr Dunagan,

    According to the sheriff and prosecutor, it was a decided issue at least a year ago. They told me and a bunch of 16 year old boys that there was “no such thing as private beach anymore”.

    No supreme court, no Mr. Panesko, no ugly democracy just a back room decision. This is direct from the prosecutors office as of 1 month ago and from a deputy more recently than that. The deputy that told me that knew about the prosecutor’s statements in the July 5th article but discounted them as “not what will really happen”.

  24. DannyBoy Says:

    Well Doc, I hope you’re right about this!
    I just spent a few days down on the Oregon Coast. If we head for the beach, we always drive down to Oregon simply for the freedom we experience there. What a wonderful place, I walked for hours down the beach and did not receive even one grumpy stare, absolutely no threats, or rock throwing either. Just a bunch of really nice people who actually smile and wave back.
    Oh, and by he way, even after the Oregon Beach Bill passed, Property values never fell as some people predicted. Seems it is still desirable to own beach front property even if you don’t own the actual beach!

  25. cjcampbell Says:

    So Dannyboy, are you in favor of the state buying back all the tidelands at current market prices, or do you think the private property you want to use should be seized without any compensation whatsoever?

  26. Dave Kimble Says:

    HEY – anyone keeping track of good ole red, white, blue… voting for
    beach access lately? Wow! The majority thinks walking is OK.
    I wonder if shoreline owners should be compensated for being good
    stewards of their property? If that is a good idea, then should not the
    bad stewards be made to pay… higher taxes to compensate the rest of
    us for their behaviors? After all, the water are as pointed out, Waters of the State, and the critters that reside within. Now who is watching who’s waterways..

  27. DannyBoy Says:

    Seized? You mean like when the State tells you you can’t use the Wetlands that happens to be on your property? Or when they take a strip of your land so they can widen the road?
    Like I said before, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe anyone owns the Ocean or the Rivers, and the Tidelands are a part of the Ocean. Of course that’s just my opinion, but now it seems it’s the opinion of the Sheriff and Prosecutor too, so I guess the tidelands have already been “seized”. Not by my doing, but I can’t help saying that if it’s true, freeing up the beaches would make a great many people very happy. As for compensation, that is between you and the State, my opinion wouldn’t make a bit of difference there.

  28. cjcampbell Says:

    Dannyboy, the property owners paid for those tidelands. Now you say the state took their money and gave them nothing in return. And yes, the government is required to pay you for land that they use as roads. They have to pay you for your property if they want to use it as a public park, even if that land is under water part of the day. Sorry, we are governed by a Constitution that prevents the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. If you want to abandon the rule of law, be prepared for a fight.

  29. DannyBoy Says:

    As I said, I had nothing to do with it, but if it has indeed happened, I’m all for it. As for the compensation, that’s between you and the State.
    If I have to pay a bit more taxes to gain access to the beaches across the State, then so be it. I believe it would be worth it.

    You might look to Oregon to see how beach “owners” were compensated there (if they were). It might give you some insight as to how it will go here.

  30. cjcampbell Says:

    I remain unconvinced that anything the Peoples’ Republic of Oregon did has any applicability to what Washington should do. Did Oregon sell property to people and then take it back without paying them for it? Seems a bit heinous and lacking in integrity, if they did that. Of course, integrity is conspicuous by its absence in modern society.

  31. Dave Kimble Says:

    Is there someone else that can speak to this without continuing to refer to those who disagree or do differently as COMMUNISTS! Please check your flags at the door. Next discussion is…

  32. DannyBoy Says:

    I simply cite Oregon’s Law because the issue is fast coming to a head here.
    I have no idea how it worked, I just know that in the past, their laws were like Washington’s, but a Bill called the Beach Bill changed all that.
    Google it and you’ll find a wealth of information.

    As for Integrity, I wonder about the integrity of the politicians of our State who sold the public beaches back in 1889 just after we became a State.
    Was there a vote on that? Did the people support it, or did the greedy politicians see it as a quick money maker, and simply did it without consensus? (some things never change)
    Today there would be a tremendous outcry if the state started to sell off the state forest lands to adjacent landowners.

    Sometimes mistakes that were made in the past need to be corrected and made right. The beaches should be Public once again.

  33. cjcampbell Says:

    I suspect the people supported it. It was 1889, for crying out loud. The dishonest mores of the early 21st Century were not so popular back then. I suspect that the prevailing opinion of those early pioneers would be less than favorable when looking on our day. They would look at such terms as “public trust” and shake their heads quizzically, shrug their shoulders, and get back to chopping down all the trees.

  34. DocGeorge Says:

    I am not opposed to sharing the beach. I am opposed to being harassed by the police, county officials and others into just walking away.

    I grew up dirt poor in California where the only recreation I could afford was to ride the bus to the beach. I do share the beach with those who have not made it there life’s work to harass me this last year.

    I have no respect for the taint of county impropriety that surrounds this issue.

    The “doc” is because I was a corpsman in vietnam (AKA a corpseman). I feel I have paid enough dues to be able to enjoy the beach without being assaulted and otherwise harassed.

  35. beemom Says:

    The writer’s article is so timely for me as my husband and I were challenged by a property owner last Tuesday as we were walking on the beach near the Clinton ferry dock. This was on the day of the record minus tide. A property owner yelled that we were trespassing on her property (funny, her neighbor said nothing) We said that it was our understanding that as long as we were below the high tide mark, we were ok. Where we were walking was quite a distance from the high tide mark. The woman said that there was a lot of misinformation about the law and property rights and to call the Island County Sheriff if we had any questions. Right after this, we immediately tried to find a way to get off the beach without walking through someone’s property. Needless to say, we had to climb a very steep and winding road to get to the main road to walk back to the ferry. What she told us just didn’t sit right with me, so I took her at her word and called the Island County Sheriff’s office. I was told that unless her property was quite the rare exception (which she doubted), we had not done anything wrong and were perfectly within our rights. However, I also have been doing a lot of research on the whole issue as I have found that the agencies that I have contacted (Dept of Natural Resources, WA dept of ecology, nonprofits, etc) either don’t know themselves or give me conflicting answers. It is so frustrating. I just want a bottom line about the Public Trust Doctrine and pedestrian rights to walk across tidelands. I also would like some sort of legal precedence cause I feel compelled to “school” this person who was the only one to confront us during a 10 mile walk.

    I basically grew up on Camano Island and my father was a Seattle attorney who was very aware of the laws surrounding this issue in the 1960′s and 1970′s as he was the “pro bono” attorney for the beachfront community we belonged to. He supported the Public Trust Doctine. He told us kids that we could not play or walk on anyone’s property above the high tide line. We could walk along the beach during low tides but were to keep a respectful distance from the high tide line, to simply and quietly walk and enjoy ourselves, be respectful of the property owners, not remove or disturb anything in front of their property and to smile and wave as we went by. He also was very clear that we were never to walk on tidelands that were under tribal ownership unless we had permission.

    Although we have a second home here in Washington that we pay taxes on that we plan to return to (I’m a 5th generation Washingtonian, my husband is a 4th generation) we have been away for 10 years and thought that perhaps the laws about the Public Trust Doctrine as we knew it had changed.

    Thanks to this article, I now understand the public and private property owners interpreting the legal/judicial issue according to their interests and will continue to do so unless and until the upper courts further clarify things. This has helped me to understand why I have not yet gotten a definitive and consistent answer – because there just isn’t one. So I guess “unless and until” I am confronted by the law, I will continue to walk and respectfully enjoy the tidelands (below the high tide mark)of both private property owners and public lands.

  36. SharonOHara Says:

    One waterfront property owner in Mason County told me the new property tax came in over $1,500. more taxes a year for the waterfront.

    What, exactly, are they paying so much for if they have no control over the beach?
    It was my understanding the property taxes for waterfront included the beach. A moot point at high tide.

    I’ve seen people walking their dogs or allowing their dogs to run loose on the beach and into the yards to make deposits. They grab oysters or clams…sometimes kids crack them open with a rock and leave the mess there.

    Let the state own the beaches and take waterfront property higher taxes off the tax rolls.
    Seems fair to me…

  37. DannyBoy Says:

    You have to remember, this is Washington State, they would tax the air you breathe if they thought they could get away with it.

    It’s not just the landowners that think they “own” the beach that pay high taxes, anyone who can even see the beach (or the water, or any great view for that matter),from their property, get slammed with higher taxes. So even if it is determined that the landowners only own the land up to the high water line, they will still technically have waterfront property and be taxed accordingly. Sorry, but that’s a fact of life here in paradise.

  38. DannyBoy Says:

    Well said, Beemom!

    What you have found is exactly my experience. Most people do not confront me when I am simply walking, and not molesting the beach in any way. In fact most wave back! I have come to the point that when I am walking on the beach well below the high tide line, and I am challenged, I just smile, wave, and continue on my walk. If the harassment doesn’t stop, I simply remind the person that I am well below the high tide line, and well within my rights. Then I invite the landowner to call the sheriff and let *them* evict me from the beach, after which, I turn and continue my walk. To this day, the Sheriff has not appeared even though my walk brings me back down the same beach.
    I agree, we need to have a definitive answer once and for all on this issue. This gray area does nothing but promote confrontation. A vote of the people would settle this once and for all. Washington Beaches should be made public once again!

  39. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    I know folks whose high water line is approaching the top or above their bulkhead.

    The highwater line doesn’t work in many cases – particularly those folks with bulkheads. They were installed to keep the high tide at bay…especially in the winter. What do you suggest in those cases?

  40. DannyBoy Says:

    Not exactly sure what you are talking about, but a bulkhead built at the high water line should not stop someone walking on the beach unless it was an extremely high tide in which case people couldn’t pass until the tide receded.

  41. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    I mean the high water mark is on the bulkhead…not the beach.

    If people walk the beach below the high water mark and the ‘mark’ is high on the bulkhead and the home is only feet from the builkhead, those walkers could legally walk right across what should be private property…disturbing the residents who pay for the privillage of living there.

    You may well be the perfect, leave no trace beach walker in this state…but the ‘rules’ should be established for the benefit of the property owners who bought the property at a primium and pay heavy taxes to live there.

    If the state or federal government own the property, the public is free to use it. Their taxes support it – not private property.

    Anyone can go over any property when the tide is in and that’s reasonable…in my view.

    . …they could well walk across the How do you determine the high water mark on the properties you walk?

  42. beemom Says:


    With regards to your earlier comments

    Isn’t there a premium in property taxes for view, waterfront property, especially if the property has views to the west? Other factors that drives up property taxes include recent sales and property improvement in the neighborhood. Property owners with bluff views but no beach access pay less in property taxes all things being equal than those whose property has water frontage. Let’s face it, waterfront property is the most desirable property anywhere.. Lakefront owners pay high taxes (ask anyone who has property on Mercer Island) and but don’t have to contend with tides and tidelands. Now would be a GREAT time for your friend to challenge the increase with the assessor as I bet the value of her property has significantly decreased over the past year or two. Why pay more property tax than the piece is worth just so that the assessed value stays high.

    Owners of property, whether the property lines a street, a park or a beach have always had to scoop up “presents” from unresponsible dog owners. I don’t think that beach front property owners have more problems with this issue than I do as a homeowner whose property is next to a park. I argue that my present quota is significantly higher. Scoop and leash laws are enforceable if the law is on the locality’s books and violators should be reported.

    With regards to your comment about bulkheads and high water line. The Shoreline Management Act was established in the 1970′s to address this issue and to prevent property owners from building out over the tidelands. Examples of developer abuses that led to the act include the condominium building located next to Shilshole Marina in Seattle, and a number of apartment/condo buildings that jut out over Lake Washington. There was a lot of abuses by property owners filling in tidelands to increase their “land” footage. It would be good to read up about this act because there are supportive articles that cover bulkheads and high watermarks. But then this question would be answered through the permit purpose and/or an attorney who is expert in the field. Without the Shoreline Management Act’s protection your friend with waterfront property would be competing with her neighbors for panoramic and unobstructed views. Your neighbor’s view property is protected from the whims of her neighbors – much like Edmonds, WA having building height restrictions downtown to protect existing homeowners’ views.

  43. DannyBoy Says:

    Thanks Beemom,
    Good info there.

    As far as how I determine the high water line, I don’t get too scientific, I just look for the existing beach, and normally stay close to the water. I have not run into the situation where I would need to cross someones yard to pass, and would probably not do so without permission. That said, if the bulkhead was so far out that I could not pass without getting wet, even at a low tide, then I would question the legality of that bulkhead.

    As for high property taxes, that is a reality of life here in Washington, especially if there is waterfront or views involved. Just because you pay high taxes for waterfront does not mean you own the ocean,(or its beach), it just means you own high value waterfront property and are taxed accordingly. People in Oregon, Hawaii, and California all pay high taxes for waterfront, but the ownership clearly ends at the high tide line. We need to clarify that here in Washington.

  44. J Sanchez Says:

    Sooo confusing for this Hawaiian lady to understand if she can or cannot walk the beach. I can share this, bulkheads are banned from beachfront homes in my native island. As it is believed that the construction of bulkheads cause erosion as does buildings close to the shoreline.

  45. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Thanks beemom…Good points, all.

    I grew up on waterfront and learned to respect other people’s property – mainly because I saw what happened when the summer folks with their tiny lots, huge family and guest list partied and took over the beach.

    I understand the difference between the tax roll properties and enjoy other folks waterfront but my own personal preference would be living in the mountains… Alaska comes to mind.

    DB, I believed that property owners owned the beach to the low water line and paid taxes accordingly – never the waterways.

    J Sanchez … the bulkheads I’m thinking of were built sixty and more years ago – back when few understood erosion and tide action.
    Its a real problem and one that needs to be clarified for the property owner and the strolling beach folks.

  46. beemom Says:

    Hi Danny,

    You and I are on the same page, but I have a question. Do you believe that as it now stands that property ownership ends at the high tide line? I see the question to be one of whether the public’s right to walk on privately owned tidelands is protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and Shoreline Management Act and to what extent such protection succeeds the rights of real property owners. But I believe that many waterfront property holders own the tidelands that extends in front of their property. My understanding is that the Public Trust Doctrine is the broad umbrella concept based on Common Law which oveshadows, informs and influences how the Shoreline Management Act is to be interpreted and to what extend the rights of property owners are curtailed. Maybe I misunderstood the part in Dunagan’s editorial about waterfront property owners deeds being muddled to the extent that individual owners may or may not actually have full rights to their tidelands as they might have thought when they purchased the piece of property. I hate to imagine the cost and time for both property owners and the State challenging and researching all those old deeds and then surveying to establish property boundaries – wow! what a can of worms. I guess that is what title insurance is for? Resolution of the question of pedestrian passage on privately owned tidelands is a matter for the courts. Until then it seems to me that both sides of this issue are probably somewhat in the right and somewhat in the wrong since at this point the “truth” can best be considered subjective – based on one’s interpretation. I stand by my understanding (right or wrong) that the Public Trust Doctrine trumps property rights on the issue of pedestrian passage and will continue to repectfully walk on the beach way below the high tide line with the understanding that I am knowingly assuming the risks (legal challenge or prosecution) from my action.

  47. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    This is nonsense. What gives anyone the right to walk over beaches beyond our extensive city, county, state and federal parks and wilderness areas.

    What is your point walking across beaches protected for years by the property owners? You beach walkers, to say the least, is crushing barnacles, clams, oysters, all the little sea life huddled under and around the rocks you’re walking on. How much foot traffic can such a delicate environment stand before it begins to break down?

    What is the problem with using a canoe, rowboat, paddle boat – even swimming up and down the waterways without causing damage due to excessive foot traffic over the delicate environment?

    People who own land of any kind are STEWARDS OF THE LAND … they will not destroy it as you indiscriminate beach walkers will do.
    NO, you should not have that right.

  48. mancunianpress Says:

    Ms. O’Hara,
    I think in the larger scheme of things beemom is right. It sounds as though she holds the majority opinion regarding those attitudes of folks who don’t actually own waterfront property. There are after all, far more
    people who use shorelines in this State who don’t own waterfront than
    those folks who do hold title to waterfront. Holding title and owning
    natural resources are again… far different things. Allot of waterfront property owners side with the Public Trust Doctrine premise the reporter is covering.

  49. beemom Says:

    Hi Sharon,

    There are two recent articles from the Seattle Times and KUOW that challenges your argument that pedestrians walking across beaches do more damage to Puget Sound than waterfront property owners. I strongly recommend that you take the time to read them as you will see that bulkheads and the “armoring” of bluffs and shorelines do a whole lot more damage to the natural environment and beaches than a comparatively small number of people who enjoy walking on beaches or even a few dogs. This matter of “armoring” is a real issue that is being addressed at all levels of local and state government because it affects the natural habitat and marine life of Puget Sound on a grand scale – not just a few barnacles being stepped on or a few rocks being turned over. I also want to remind you that a portion of the taxes I pay as a property owner has gone and will continue to go towards helping protect and preserve your friend’s tideland and thereby your friend’s real estate investment.

    Here are the articles: Please take a few minutes to read them. If the links don’t work, you can google the titles as I have given you all the reference info.

    Beaches Suffer as Walls Go Up May 13, 2008 Seattle Times

    Puget Sound’s Altered Shores KUOW March 22, 2010

    This is probably my last post to this blog as the amount of time I have spent sitting inside at a computer and writing my thoughts on this subject has taken me away from my love of walking the beaches.

  50. mancunianpress Says:

    Sorry to see you go. Our community has also had to deal with those dreadful foot crushing, oyster robbing, clam slamming beach strollers.
    Thank you for your concise and on point blogging. Get out and enjoy
    that beach!!

  51. SharonOHara Says:

    I did have time to read the articles…thank you!

    “…despite a state law requiring new bulkheads to be designed so they won’t hurt fish habitat, damage continues.

    “In other words,” Tim Quinn, Fish and Wildlife’s chief habitat scientist, told state lawmakers at a hearing last November, “we’re not doing a very good job.”…”

    “…Tribal officials say whatever the political difficulties, restoring Puget Sound shorelines and the fish that depend on them isn’t a choice. It’s an obligation under treaties signed before Washington was a state. David Troutt with the Nisqually Tribe directed his remarks to government officials at the recent Puget Sound Partnership meeting.

    Troutt: “Part of the deal is we wouldn’t shoot all of you, and we’d be able to fish. We haven’t shot a lot of you in a long time, and we’re not fishing, so our end of the deal isn’t being held up here. We need to have that deal recognized, that this really is something that you guaranteed us, and we need to see that guarantee fulfilled.”…”

    Thank you beemom. Your comments and others prove the ultimate in blogging…educating the public and each other…is happening right here, right now.

    I didn’t know the bulkheading was continuing on such a scale.

    mancunianpress said it just right …” Get out and enjoy
    that beach!!…”

    Sharon O’Hara

  52. DannyBoy Says:

    you said; “DB, I believed that property owners owned the beach to the low water line and paid taxes accordingly – never the waterways.”
    That is where we disagree. The beach, up to and including the high water line is a part of the ocean/waterway and would not exist unless the ocean/waterway was there. As I stated before, I don’t believe anyone owns the ocean and the tidelands are an intricate part of the ocean, so I will not be using a canoe or kayak simply to avoid stepping on the beach in the foreseeable future.

    As far as your take on bulkheads, most of the Illegal bulkheads were built before there was a good understanding of the effect they have on the shoreline and the marine environment as a whole. I believe those illegal bulkheads should be removed, just as the Dams on the Elwha are being removed over the next few years, to correct the wrong that was done when they were built.

  53. DannyBoy Says:

    I agree, it seems we are on the same page.

    I have always believed that the tidelands were a natural resource and are owned by all the people of the State and not just a few individuals, as the Public Trust Doctrine spells out, however, that has yet to be clarified.
    It could be a matter for the courts, or it may be settled with a referendum as it was in Oregon and California.
    I don’t believe tidelands were ever privately owned in Hawaii.

    As for the law here, it is not clearly defined, so I can’t answer you. Even the Law Enforcement Agencies can’t answer those questions, and they seem ever more reluctant to get involved with someone peacefully walking the beach. Like you, I also assume the risk, and will continue to walk along our ocean.

    I agree with you that bulkheads and armoring do far more damage than people strolling on the beach and I invite anyone who disagrees to simply do a bit of research and learn the facts.

    As for your suggestion about the cost and time of researching deeds, I really don’t think it will go that way. Most likely the issue will be decided as in other States with a Referendum and a vote of the people, and will be continually be pushed in that direction by the very people who do not want to see that change, the irate “beach owners”, who yell and throw rocks at peaceful walkers who are doing nothing but enjoying the Sea.

    Just because things were legally done in the past does not mean they will stand up to today’s scrutiny. Take for instance, the building of some Dams. When they were built, the detrimental effect they would have were not well understood , but now there is an ongoing effort to remove the offending Dams and free the rivers once again. Case in point, the Elwha Dams that will be removed starting in 2011.

    I don’t know the intricate workings of the Bills that freed the beaches in OR and CA, but they have indeed clarified the public ownership of the tidelands. I believe there is still some ongoing legal issues in California with a few stretches of coastal properties, but there is an ongoing effort by the organization CoastWalk and others to create public walking paths linking all the beaches in that state so that one could walk the entire coastline. It will be great when Washington can boast the same thing!

    When the issue finally comes up in a referendum, you can be assured I will volunteer to collect signatures and actively help wherever I can.

    Thanks for the insight Beemom, it’s been a good discussion, but I think you are right, it’s time to take a walk!

  54. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    What illegal bulkheads are you talking about? Are you suggesting that folks who legitimately put in bulkheads fifty years ago did so illegally and they must be ripped out?

    Such an act seems like lunecy when according to the above recommended article…our own GOVERNMENT is permitting new bulkheads TODAY!

    Furthermore, why do you compare the harm done to beaches from bulkheads v beachwalkers?
    They are two seperate issues.

    If you think your beach walkers cause little harm, talk with folks from the Forest Service. Ask what they think of hikers loving our mountain and fragile areas to death? Ask about the erosion caused by cutting switchbacks…get educated about the public destruction of many of our tender mountain areas….no, not on purpose.

    One walker is nothing, thousands moviing along the same path is quite another thing.

  55. Dave Kimble Says:

    Soft bank Shoreline Protection vs. Rock/Concrete Bulk heading.

    Article suggesting bulk heading permitted today is soft shoreline protection, not concrete armor or huge boulder/rock armor type bulkheads as in past generations.

    Harm caused by walking on beaches vs. Driving Vehicles.

    Tidal action twice, sometimes three times per day erases ‘ALL EVIDENCE’ of movement by humans and even MOST mechanical insults on shorelines.

    To claim that foot traffic is harmful to shoreline Eco-systems like hikers ‘loving’ trails to death in forest systems is purely preposterous. Ask shoreline property owners how much damage they do while driving on the beach at Manchester. Driving in same area with vehicles does crush attachments of barnacles and other species that attach to rocks, but even cars on beaches don’t kill animals residing under the first few inches of the beach. Why else would State and Federal Fish and Wildlife Agencies permit driving in Manchester beaches unless no net harm was occurring? So if cars are allowed, now why would people be forbidden from walking? Next argument please.

  56. DannyBoy Says:

    You need to educate yourself on some of the issues you talk about.

    Do a search on Google or search your local Library about the damage bulkheads are causing around the sound. There’s a wealth of information out there.
    As far as tearing down the type of bulkheads that are causing the most damage, that may come to pass someday. After all, if they can tear down a Dam to reverse the damage done over many years, why not bulkheads?

    As for walking down trails on the mountains, and walking on beaches, the forest service encourages people to do so, after all, they are the ones that build many of the trails and campsites we have here in Washington. Why would they build them, then discourage people from using them? Doesn’t make sense.

  57. cjcampbell Says:

    You guys can believe all you want that the sky is green, but that does not make it so. You can “vote” all you want that you should be able to turn invisible and fly, but your votes will not change the laws of physics. The fact is, beach front owners were sold the tidelands to the low tide line. What you believe or wish or think is just is entirely irrelevant. What you think about somebody’s bulkhead is equally irrelevant.

    I might think I have the right to pick food off your plate if I spied you in a restaurant, but I suspect you would have a differing opinion about that.

    Beach front owners own the tidelands in the state of Washington. Deal with it. It does not matter what you think is right or fair.

  58. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    “Ask shoreline property owners how much damage they do while driving on the beach at Manchester.”

    I did not know people drove on the beaches around here … amazing.

    I think of our beaches and oceans and waterways, mountains and wildlife – our creatures – as treasures to enjoy and protect.

  59. mancunianpress Says:

    To Whom it may entertain.

    I own tidelands to extreme mean low. I enforce my rights and choose to put my energy in happy things like sharing what I have since I believe it is a privilege to own part of the beach. It is not worth getting angry either way on any of these discussions. It is not attractive or to hear someone or for that matter oneself lecture on the rule of law on beaches or other legalese crap. I am also a paralegal.. but that isn’t any big deal either. Laws change. The voting is an indicator of opinions.

    It is funny you’d say I am a doormat (in a prior post) as a NAVET I think I might have spun up other Vets. Sorry. And to those treading/transmitting/resting on my deeded tidelands, enjoy but please don’t harm the critters. Take what you can eat (watch the red tide and health warnings please) and if you steal my “other” worldly possessions – then we have a problem. And for whomever out there thinks I am a doormat, please think that precept over again. If you knew me, you’d think me conservative and passionate about my liberalism. With tongue in cheek, I say I am glad to hear how the “little people” feel who are not so lucky to have inherited or otherwise acquired shoreline property. My welcome sign is always out to you the most.

  60. DannyBoy Says:


    I don’t know what world you are living in, but in reality, things change. They changed in California and in Oregon when the beaches were made public once again. I’m sure there were some “CJs” in those States who did not believe it would ever happen there! …And even locally, things changed for the the many families that were displaced when Bremerton decided to tear down the houses some had lived in for generations, just to widen and beautify the entrance to the city. That was done “in the public’s best interest” with the stroke of a pen. So pull your head out of the sand, change is inevitable.

    Washington is the last holdout on the West Coast for private tideland ownership, so I don’t ask myself IF the laws will eventually change, but WHEN.
    Please don’t underestimate the power of the vote.

  61. DannyBoy Says:


    It seems you understand that the vast majority of people walking on the beach don’t want to harm anyone or anything, they just want to experience the peace and tranquility of the oceans shore.

    To you I say Thanks for sharing.

  62. cjcampbell Says:

    I do not understand mancunianpress’ continual hostility towards anything I say or why he assumes the things he does about me. My only conclusion can be that he is as crazy as a bedbug.

    Dannyboy, yes, things do change. However, the citizens of the state of Washington were paid for those tidelands. They accepted that money and got to use it for well over a century in many cases. That money built schools, roads, and paid for many other developments and public works. Now it seems a lot of people have changed their minds. They want to keep the money, but they want the tidelands back. I am sorry, but that is unjust and dishonest. I would be very disappointed, for one, to see the citizens of the state of Washington sell their souls and the last of their integrity just so they can walk on beaches that do not belong to them.

  63. cjcampbell Says:

    I might also add, mancuianpress: why would you trust people who have no integrity — people who reneged on a deal simply because they didn’t like it — people who sold tidelands and kept the money and then demanded the tidelands back anyway — why would you trust such people anywhere near your property? They have already demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with anything. They have already said that if they want something that does not belong to them, why, they have the right to take it away from you without compensating you. If they feel that way about your property rights, why would they not feel that way about your boat motor, your dock, or even your children?

  64. mancunianpress Says:

    Will someone please answer this insult from this guy? I haven’t the
    need to engage such drivel. Just when the morning was going so well
    I thought – - Oh sigh… : /

  65. cjcampbell Says:

    Let’s see: you say that I post “drivel.” You accuse of me of hating beach walkers when I have repeatedly told you that I do not. You continually accuse me of being “angry.” And then you say I have insulted you.

  66. DannyBoy Says:

    I’m not selling my soul. I believe the Ocean belongs to all of us, and the tidelands are an intricate part of the Ocean. I never agreed to sell the tidelands. That happened a long time before we came along, but it doesn’t make it right. Many things were done in the 1800′s that would not be done today.

    I never said the State would “steal” the tidelands. I’m suspect people who paid for the tidelands would be compensated. I’m not sure how, but I suspect either monetarily, or possibly through tax credits on the balance of their property. That would be up to the State through existing State laws.
    Oregon’s Beach Bill addresses this issue in Section 12, and I suspect Washington’s laws would provide for something similar;
    Section 12. For purposes of assessment and ad valorem taxation, whenever real property is held subject to a public easement declared a state recreation area by section 2 of this Act, the true cash value of the property shall be taken into consideration for the restricted use imposed on the servient property by the easement.
    Read the whole text here;

    No one here is trying to steal your land.

    This is simply a discussion on public use of the beach. We all have very different views on this subject, but attacking writers here that have differing views and opinions will not solve anything.

    Truth is, You are in the minority here. There are far more people in this State who would back a “Washington Beach Bill”, than oppose one.

  67. cjcampbell Says:

    I may be in the minority, but that does not make me wrong. There is such a thing as a tyranny of the majority.

    Of course, the state has the right to use its power of eminent domain to condemn any property for public use, so long as the owners of that property are justly compensated for that land at fair market value. Remember, one of the primary reasons for the War for American Independence was that the British monarchy had a habit of seizing the private property of individuals, often for no reason other than that the king did not like those people. People often lost property because they were unjustly accused of being witches and the like.

    Our Founding Fathers recognized this problem and wrote into the Constitution prohibitions against the taking of private property without compensation.

    The problem I have with some of those posting here is that many of them assume that the land is no longer private simply because they personally want to walk on it.

    You think the state had no right to sell those tidelands. Well, the state did it anyway, whether you think they had the right to do it or not. Guess they didn’t ask you. Perhaps you had some great-grandfather around that sold a farm. You weren’t around then, either. Do you have the right to demand the farm back?

    Refusing to honor agreements simply because no one asked you strikes at the very foundations of civilization and the rule of law. If anyone, anytime, can come back a generation later and demand the unraveling of any agreement just because no one asked him or her, then we enter a world where might makes right, where he who has the biggest army of supporters can outmuscle anyone and take anything he pleases. It is a return to barbarism of the worst sort.

    I love to have people walk on my beach and to visit. However, they do not have a right to do so and my beach does not belong to them. Mancunianpress is free to invite anyone he wants to visit his home and his beach and I wish him much enjoyment in the company of those he wishes to associate with. He does not have the right, however, to invite anyone who wishes to visit my home and my beach. I truly believe he fails to understand the distinction between what is his and what belongs to anyone else.

  68. mancunianpress Says:

    DB: Do I hear what you are saying is compensation in some form would
    maybe/likely forthcoming in the event tidelands are say… quit claimed back to the public? I think.. the sobering truth is.. (and no need for 12th step jokes please) as you’ve more than alluded to, (mind you I am not quoting here) the voters could invite all and any comer(s) onto our tidelands by water, sea, air. Right? They could pen stroke our ‘prized’ ownership out of existence. I have to say this, when I look at initials “DB” I think…. where’s my parachute? and then I think jokes of that aside, it may happen in my lifetime, maybe not – this deeding back of tide lands. And I could live and pay less taxes and love my neighbors and not covet my neighbors lands.. and la-la, la-la, la-la.. forever tax free. And then again my other fallback plan (if things were nasty and intolerable to live here, which I haven’t seen such regression in 45 years living here) then I’d know when to fold em, sell – buy abundant acreage in the forest … and then start guarding/watching my forest for tree thieves. Or. I’d live in some place like “Snug Harbor” which allot of folks refer to as “Slug Harbor” in a funny way. Point is I’d buy a trailer, or boat – travel and see other places. No one deserves to be unhappy with intruders. All enjoy the right to exclude others from owned / leased / properly rented lands. That’s the law, and common sense goes with it. But, I don’t think civilization will come crashing down on our heads of ALL the deeded tidelands in Wn. revert back to the Public. Period.
    Oh, ya – I did renew my KAPO dues for this year as well.. Really! Now I feel less insulted…

  69. DannyBoy Says:

    You have the right to believe whatever you wish, and I’m sure I’ll never change your way of thinking no more than you can change mine.

    Sometimes we find that agreements that were made between our ancestors and the State may no longer be in the best interest of the People, and need to be revisited.
    Thing is, this IS a Democracy, and when the majority of the people demand that a law be changed, or a wrong be righted, or an agreement be nullified, then it usually is.

    That is the discussion here. The Government will not act by itself, but when directed by the people it must.
    The time to free the tidelands is not here yet, but if and when it arrives, it will be because of Democracy, not in spite of it.

  70. DannyBoy Says:


    I like the DB thing! Wish I had invested that Million in Microsoft way back then…

    Yes, I was saying that I believe (read personal opinion) that people would be compensated in some way for the tidelands, and yes, they would then be public lands open for anyone to access.
    I doubt your taxes would be less though, as you would still have waterfront property. The taxes on waterfront property in other states that freed the beaches did not drop dramatically, nor did the property values.

    You’re right though, If the beaches were made public Civilization won’t come crashing down. In fact, all would benefit including the current “Owners” as they would also be free to walk the beaches anywhere in the State, and not just on their small piece of the Sound.
    …And really, unless you are next to a park or some other public access, I doubt waterfront owners would see much difference. Maybe a few more walkers, but I doubt they would be inundated with uninvited visitors as most people just walk a short distance down the beach and turn around. …Don’t want to get TOO much exercise, now do we.

  71. mancunianpress Says:

    DB~ that was worth the re-read and I could live with the taxes. I was just telling the significant precisely what you said re: more open space, less feeling of crowds on shorelines. Kitsap has a caboodle of shorelines. Not likely we’d see the same people more than
    once in any given week. I’d embrace this change, and think the predecessors in interest here would be shocked and dismayed how
    things have progressed with ownership and sharing. Not synonymous obviously. I also think those same predecessors (most if not all) would not have problems sharing in the current state of ownership. What I have seen which is somewhat discouraging is how ‘new’ owners (see new money as well) prize their lands as possessions much as cars and resale items. Each to their own as we know, but that is I think some of the problem with the conflicted views of owning and sharing dirt. Your words provide very nice insight and a glimmer of hope for me, that we can all learn to share and not judge others as much by their differing values on this testy topic. I can hardly wait to see what the reporter does on the next blog… Thanks!

  72. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    “Refusing to honor agreements simply because no one asked you strikes at the very foundations of civilization and the rule of law. If anyone, anytime, can come back a generation later and demand the unraveling of any agreement just because no one asked him or her, then we enter a world where might makes right, where he who has the biggest army of supporters can outmuscle anyone and take anything he pleases….”

    That’s powerful and I agree.
    I have no qualifications for this discussion other than I was raised on waterfront and my opinions are formed from over 60 years of a close personal relationship with it.

    DB said … “Sometimes we find that agreements that were made between our ancestors and the State may no longer be in the best interest of the People, and need to be revisited….”

    is right. Remember the original tiny lots platted for PO…an area that nowadays is ill suited for such a density. It was fine then, but we’ve grown and developed and know more now about cause and effect of our living affecting our environment…We need to be flexible and reasonable too.

    I’ve never had an interest in beach walking for its own sake. I swam and the beach was used to get the boat to the water. Picking up the rocks to check out the population under them was always interesting…but we stayed on our own beach.

    Few people that I’ve seen and heard about (close friends have waterfront properties in different areas) walk across the beach without picking up oysters, clams, crabs and/or leaving smashed sealife, garbage and their dogs leavings right there on the beach.

    Walking ocean beaches are different than imposing on densely populated beaches.
    If anything other than low tide ownership of the beach does come into being, every summer cabin with front foot of 30 feet +/- will take over the beaches for very little monatary investment.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a place where anyone can bring a bucket to shovel up the finer peagravel of the neighbors beach to scatter in their own yard.
    Sharon O’Hara

  73. cdunagan Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this wide-ranging discussion and appreciate the respect shown here for the most part. I would like to bring this back to what got me going in the first place: that the courts have not completely defined what the public is allowed to do on private beaches.

    The courts do protect property rights when it comes to the ownership of shellfish and other property. It’s also safe to say that disturbing the natural functions of a beach could be considered a violation, unless one has shorelines permit.

    I personally doubt that the state would ever take back ownership of all tidelands, though some areas might be purchased with the consent of an agreeable seller.

    What I still find most intriguing is that courts have not ruled in Washington state whether the government reserved the right for its citizens to walk on private tidelands sold by the state years ago. We know that we can float a boat over private tidelands, but can we step out of the boat into shallow water? Can we walk up to dry land? These are the questions that remain unanswered, as far as I can tell.

    Part of the hangup in this discussion is that some property owners believe that their ownership gives them the right to exclude anyone anytime. We know this is not entirely true, for the courts have ruled that necessity is a defense in a trespass case. In other words, if someone’s life were in danger, then a person could cross private property without facing a trespass charge. Life is clearly more important than property rights.

    Besides the Public Trust Doctrine, other provisions of common law may also prevail, such as prescriptive easements. You may own the land, but if the public has crossed over it for a long enough time, then the owner may not exclude those for whom the easement applies.

  74. DocGeorge Says:

    A question for all the “public right to walk on private tidelands” people.

    If a road runs through the property separating the uplands from the tidelands, would the right to traverse across the property be satisfied by walking along the road? What would happen if the road were a public deeded trial?

    Why or why not?

    The majority of people seem to walk on the road, as it is easier on their ankles and their dog’s paws. Most of the people that walk just past the road on the beach side are the same people that want to argue about who owns the tidelands. None of the people that want to argue about you owns the beach have never looked at the maps of the property but seem to be basing their opinions on what they think “ought” to be. Ought to be and reality are to different things. The state ought not to have sold off the tidelands – but they did.

    I don’t believe that the issue is one of willingness to share. For me it is the harassment, thief, vandalism that is the problem. After discussing the issue with my son (much wiser than I am), I wrote the county offering to lease the land to them for what ever use they wanted. I also told them not to worry about the financial aspects that I would be willing to accept payment in dollars some time in the future.

    Such an arrangement would mean that what happens on the tide flats would no longer be my problem.

  75. Sgschwend Says:

    Holy cow!
    I have attempted to walk on many beaches from my kayak and find that many folks object by posting signs and even their irate presence.

    They all say they own the beach, and the waterway.

    I would say Washington State receives a failing grade.

  76. SharonOHara Says:

    How do you walk on a beach from your kayak? Did anyone get a picture of it?

    Washington State waterfront owners should receive the highest grade for being kind to any kayaker attempting to walk on their beach from his kayak.

  77. mancunianpress Says:

    So on a scale of 0-10, how do you think Kitsap County(s) waterfront property owners rank in their ‘graciousness’ of accepting beach walkers walking or Kayak paddlers landings on personal private property? Please,
    not to much slapping on ones backs.. it is disingenuous. I note the poll still
    shows 60% favor reasonable access to below mean high tide line. In other words “not in my front yard” NIMFY

  78. SharonOHara Says:

    I like kayaks and really want to know how you attempt to walk a beach from your kayak. In a high wind with a sail?

    The waterfront owners I knew and know object to the folks who leave garbage and/or damage the sea life. If one of those folks should slip or stumble over slippery wet seaweed or a rock and got hurt who would get sued? The state? The waterfront owner?
    Who is liable?

    Most believe people can legally and reasonably walk the low tide mark.

    I think the ‘poll’ would show a distinct difference of opinion based on whether the voter was a waterfront owner or wannabe walker over private property.

    As Chris pointed out any emergency landings are handled immediately…exactly the case wherever the emergency happened. People help people in need.

  79. mancunianpress Says:

    I think you are right that the poll results are indeed skewed with non owners supporting access. Attractive nusiances and even the natural elements, all you could name or think of including broken glass is not my liability for those seeking recreation on my private property, that includes tidelands.
    Absolute defense with Wash. St. R.C.W. on landowner liability/immunity so long as your are not involving your lands in commercial for profit uses. Recreational Immunity is what this is.It was brought up in this in prior blog.

    Saying that, anyone at anytime can sue anyone for anything. But, the immunity law will protect you from the case or claim being actionable and costing you your house, home, most important feeling of well-being and safety from fear of colorful claim and or lawsuit against you.

    You don’t have enforce your rights of ownership to be protected by State Law! This is a straw man argument used by ‘some’ landowners to justify discriminate enforcement of rights and deter the general public from making access. Be more concerned about walkers on your beach developing prescriptive rights to walk across. Ten years of uninterrupted use (with about four other elements) can make a pretty colorful claim to them using without your permission.. EVER AGAIN!!

  80. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    I once surprised two fellows on my property, another time, another place walking nw along a semi path in the woods se of the house. The fellow on the far side dropped his right hand but not before I saw the handgun. I pretended I didn’t see it and yelled to ask if they were lost. My dogs weren’t happy with the strangers on the property and we pointed the way to the driveway going up to the road. I didn’t point out we were at the end of the road and nothing but solid trees and brush south of the property. I never saw them again.

    In my opinion, property taxes do not extend to giving public access to that property. It seems odd that the very government we pay taxes to support can turn around to give others the right to walk on our property.

    The BP oil spill has pointed out that EVERYBODY is affected by what happens in our waterways and the same with our air. The person burning toxins…the vehicle spewing exhaust poisons…forces all of us to be affected.

    As a society we should have the right to CLEAN waterways and NON TOXIC airways Our government energy should be spent where it matters and AFFECTS ALL OF US, human and creatures – clean waterways and air. Let the illegal beach walkers walk with specific permission from each land waterfront owner or learn to go to public beaches or get a second job, save their money and buy their own waterfront.

  81. mancunianpress Says:

    No sympathy from me. Gate it, fence it, sign it, patrol it.. enjoy it. You
    keep looking for reasons why not, not why so I have other values and
    experiences that collide with yours. I keep watching the poll.

  82. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Don’t let life pass you by while watching a poll. We have plenty of state parks…go launch your kayak…it will all sort itself out and we’ll have the government we deserve.

  83. mancunianpress Says:

    It is a lovely day, the tide is high so I am not bothered by beach walkers.
    To much work to Kayak from here today as well. I agree we do get the government we deserve, Natl. Enquire today says Obama was born in Africa.. They have PROOF!!

  84. DannyBoy Says:

    Now here’s an interesting tidbit from the “Center for Environmental Law & Policy” that seems to answer this ongoing public access question. It concerns the public trust doctrine in Washington.

    Here is a good overview to start with:

    - In Caminiti v. Boyle, the Court upheld the dock leasing statute. But, in a lengthy analysis, it acknowledged that the public trust doctrine has always existed in Washington. While the state may convey title to tidelands and shorelands, the private owner does not receive the full “bundle of sticks” that all first-year law students learn about in property law. Instead, the state retains a “jus publicum” or public easement on the lands. The state may no more dispose of these public rights than it may abdicate its police powers to run the government or preserve the peace. –

    and this:

    - Perhaps the biggest problem with the public trust is a general lack of knowledge about its contours. Shoreline property owners sometimes claim a right to exclude the public from the beaches that front their properties. But, as the Court noted in Caminiti, private ownership “cannot block public access to public tidelands and shorelands.” -

    Read the whole article here:

    I assume most people will agree the public tidelands exist from the waters edge to the high tide line, so this seems to answer the legality question of public beach access.

    Could this be why Law Enforcement seems reluctant to respond to “Trespassing” calls where the “trespasser” is simply someone walking on the beach?

  85. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Interesting. What does it say about folks in boats pulling ashore, pulling their boat up on a waterfront owners beach and going off to beach walk?

  86. DannyBoy Says:

    Click on the link and read the whole article.

    You can see that it talks of Public Access, but says nothing about the mode of access. It also states that the waterways are held in public trust, so I would assume any access, including a boat or kayak would be fine, as long as the person doesn’t go above the high water line and exit the tidelands.

    another excerpt;
    - Her most impressive tool, however, has been her espousal of the Public Trust Doctrine. The public trust is a common law doctrine, quasi-constitutional in nature, which holds that navigable waters and the beds beneath are owned by the state, but held in trust for public use. The public trust doctrine, in one form or another, has been adopted by every state in the union. -

  87. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    I think of waterfront property as wonderful, expensive, luxury real estate…a beautiful playground in your own front yard.

    That said…is it possible the public could find something so attractive on beaches they anchor up on the ‘public’ beach and start walking and playing right in front of the waterfront taxpayer’s front yard. Even, conceivably, blocking that same owner’s access to the water with their own kayak.

    Why would anyone want to pay premium waterfront prices and elevated prperty taxes if their ‘waterfront’ is merely their donation for pub lic use?

    So…clams and oysters must be thought of as ‘public’…???

  88. DannyBoy Says:

    “Why would anyone want to pay premium waterfront prices and elevated prperty taxes if their ‘waterfront’ is merely their donation for pub lic use?”

    I guess you would have to ask the waterfront property owners down in Oregon and California, or over in Hawaii for their opinions as they share the beach with everyone. …Funny thing is, they still find it worth owning even if they have to share.

    As for your other question about using the beach in front of someone who has waterfront property, I would assume so, same as if you owned property next to a lake or a park. If the beach is considered Public, then there is not much you could do about it, unless they were breaking a law like littering, disturbing the peace etc.

  89. DannyBoy Says:

    As for Clams and Oysters, they have to be harvested where ever the fish and game determine and list in the manual.

  90. cdunagan Says:


    I reviewed numerous State Supreme Court decisions and conferred with several lawyers before writing my story about the Public Trust Doctrine in Washington state. After reading your comment, I read Caminiti v. Boyle once again.

    As I said in my story, none of these cases resolve the question of whether a member of the public may walk across private tidelands during normal circumstances.

    One of the best reviews that leans toward greater public use was written in 1991 by Ralph W. Johnson and associates, The Public Trust Doctrine and Coastal Zone Management in Washington State. But even Johnson acknowledges that much remains unresolved by the Supreme Court.

    Read the unpublished Washington State Court of Appeals case Brennan v. Bainbridge Island for an interpretation that concludes that a person does not have the right to cross private tidelands:

    “… This language suggests that our Supreme Court did not contemplate pedestrian passage over tidelands. Accordingly, while recognizing the right under the public trust doctrine of ‘navigation, commerce, fisheries, recreation, and environmental quality,’ we affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the Larsons’ claims to pedestrian travel over privately-owned tidelands when not covered by water.”

    Since the case was not published, it sets no precedent and cannot be cited in future cases.

    Finally, here’s a 2006 law review article that argues forcefully against the logic of the Brennan decision: Enjoys Long Walks on the Beach: Washington’s Public Trust Doctrine and the Right of Pedestrian Passage Over Private Tidelands (PDF 152 kb). But the author still concedes that the Supreme Court has not resolved the issue of walking on the beach.

  91. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    “As for Clams and Oysters, they have to be harvested where ever the fish and game determine and list in the manual.”

    No…no one I knew even had a fish and game manual… not for waterfront dwellers. The waterfront folks pick at dinner time.

    Read Fredi Perry’s book about Seabeck, “Tide’s Out, Table’s Set” if you want to understand the relationship between us and our waterways. Our waterfront beaches feed us…they were never playgrounds for the public. Ask how many Native Americans read the manual before deciding when they can pick for dinner.

    There is a difference between Puget Sound waterfront and ocean beaches. My comments are based on our Puget Sound waterways – not oceanfront.

    Thanks Chris…

  92. Sgschwend Says:

    I think all tidelands and waterways were the domain of the State at the time the state was established.

    There are countless sources that discuss the damage done to our water ecosystem. In our state alone 90% of the wetlands have already been lost. This issue has not been address (except in the past few decades), while over those early years property was being sold to private parties. The loss of tideland habitat and the associate wetland has damaged the ecosystem which we all need to survive. Historically only command and control has worked to improve this situation (that means state/federal laws).

    I am sure many waterfront property owners care about these thing too, some may even not modify the natural habitat which has some state law protection. When I was a waterfront property owner I did not have exclusive use rights. The use of the waterfront was highly regulated. Beach walkers seem like a better way to protect the publics ecosystem. There will be cases that the beach needs to be protected (such as nesting shore bird or soils protection) , I am all for closing those.

  93. cjcampbell Says:

    Caminiti vs. Boyle asserts a public trust of the beaches which cannot be disposed of. However, it does not assert a public right to walk on those beaches. Those are two different things. Neither does that case explain what rights the owners did receive when they purchased the tidelands. The consensus of the beach walkers here seems to be that the owners received nothing at all.

  94. cjcampbell Says:

    “I guess you would have to ask the waterfront property owners down in Oregon and California, or over in Hawaii for their opinions as they share the beach with everyone. …Funny thing is, they still find it worth owning even if they have to share.”

    You are confusing owning beach front with owning tidelands. What we want to know is, what did tidelands owners receive in return for their money? So far you have been very evasive about that.

  95. SharonOHara Says:

    For over sixty years my parents believed they owned the beach rights to the low tide mark and didn’t allow trespassers to gather oysters or dig on the beach. Nobody ‘owned’ the water….

    Neighbors crossed the adjoining beaches but gathered oysters from their own beach…most followed the golden rule…”Do Unto Others….”

  96. mancunianpress Says:

    We have fee simple deed with tidelands described. Not evasive. We pay
    over $6,000 in taxes for this prize. We are happy to let others frolic on
    beach and enjoy themselves. We are irritated with the crapping geese

  97. DannyBoy Says:

    Point well taken, thanks for the interesting read.
    From what I am gathering, the courts are, and always have been, rather wishy washy when it comes to this issue, leaving vast gray areas that need to be cleared up.
    As I said in an earlier post, it will most likely take a Public Initiative, as it did in Oregon, to make a concrete decision and force the State to go one way or the other.

  98. DannyBoy Says:


    I believe I stated in a previous post how in Oregon’s Beach Bill, the “beach owners” were compensated.

    Oregon Beach Bill;
    Section 12. For purposes of assessment and ad valorem taxation, whenever real property is held subject to a public easement declared a state recreation area by section 2 of this Act, the true cash value of the property shall be taken into consideration for the restricted use imposed on the servient property by the easement.

    When I read this, I understand that Oregon used the true cash value of the property when determining the award the property owners would receive to compensate them for restricted use, when the state made the public easement on all tidelands thus opening all the beaches to the general public.

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