Olalla urges commissioners to reconsider boat launch

"Though Kitsap County commissioners said no late last year, Olalla residents are still pushing for access to a boat launch and beachfront that has been an integral part the Olalla community for generations.Gregg Olson, an eight-year Olalla resident and chairman of a recently formed committee to find a way to acquire the property, urged the commissioners on March 12 to re-consider acquiring the property from long-time owners, the Nelson family.County commissioners last year opted against buying the property following some contention surrounding the price of the property, along with a question of contamination from a gas station across the street.The project was turned down and finished as of mid-December 2000, said Commissioner Jan Angel. Commissioners do not want to re-open the purchase.Despite earlier problems, Marianne Nelson Stewart, one of the heirs to the family's historic property, indicated recently the family might be willing to re-open discussions on the property, though nothing has yet been made definite.We're looking at that right now, Stewart said. We are looking at it, making an effort to accomplish what our open-space people want and what the community wants. We're trying to get to what it all means and what our position is on that. It's complicated. We thought before the county was going to enter into mutual negotiation ... they sort of reneged. We're sort of operating with little information. We're trying to fill in some of those gaps as best we can, she said.Olson said the possibility of contamination to the beach from the gas pumps and underground tanks at Al's grocery store is dubious, but offered commissioners a community effort to raise the money to pay for regular inspections.Ray Tallman sat next to Olson at the March 12 commissioners' meeting. Tallman has lived in Olalla on property overlooking the boat launch for 60 years. Tallman, whose property, including a portion of the boat launch, abuts the Nelson property, offered to donate it to the county if it would encourage commissioners to take another look at buying the Nelson land. The Wilsons, who own property on the other side of the Nelsons, have indicated they'd be willing to donate, too. We need that ramp. We don't have anything out in that end of the county, Tallman told commissioners. The Nelson family moved to Olalla in the late 1800s, Olson said. Olalla was a bustling town then, thriving on egg and strawberry farming. The Nelsons opened a store near the beach and, for nearly 100 years, their property, which is private, was used as though it was public space. Old pictures dating from the early 20th century show dozens of people congregated on the beach, some talking in groups and others playing marbles in the sand. The site of the boat launch was a prime spot because it boasted the only low-bank access along the Colvos Passage - the stretch of water between Vashon Island and the mainland. Most of the other banks through the passage were too high for a launch.The Mosquito Fleet made regular stops at a market that stood on stilts in the water across the bridge from the Nelson's grocery. On old ferry boarding tickets, Olalla is printed bolder and larger than other towns because it was such a bustling place. Olson and other community members maintain that Olalla grew up around the boat launch and beachfront, where piles that held up buildings still stand, and the community needs the launch back.This community needs that access. That's why this community is here. To have that taken away is just a shame, Olson said. A lot of people have lived out here for generations. People live out here whose grandparents picnicked on the beach, and now their children picnic on the beach.In January 1999, Stewart's mother, Janetta Nelson, died, leaving the property to her children. In 2000, the Port of Bremerton's lease came up for renewal and Stewart expressed her concern with liability. Because the property is private, despite its history of public use, if someone was hurt, they could sue the Nelson family. After the Port of Bremerton opted out of its lease renewal last year, Stewart sought to sell the boat launch to the county. County commissioners were involved in negotiations with Stewart, but they fell apart when a deal couldn't be reached.Shortly thereafter, the No Trespassing signs were spray-painted down the center of the parking lot and signs were erected along the beach on the opposite side of the bridge.Since then, Olalla community members have formed a committee to figure out how to regain access to the beach.On Feb. 5, Olson testified to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners about the county acquiring the property. They again said it probably wouldn't happen, but Commissioner Tim Botkin suggested Olson talk to the county's Open Space Council to see what they had to say.Olson said the council loved the idea - in fact, it's on the top 10 of land the council thinks the county should acquire. Several years ago, the Open Space Council had in its grasp a roughly $350,000 grant to get the property around the beach and tidelands, but they had a hard time getting property owners to sign on to the acquisition. Ultimately, they lost the grant.But, they could apply for that grant, or another one, again to purchase the Nelson property and preserve the land for public use, Olson said.Though the council was open to the idea of seeking a grant to purchase the property, they told Olson their hands were tied without authorization from the commissioners, he said.That brought him back to the commissioners, where he said he has encountered little in the way of progress. There's this brick wall that's the county commissioners, he said. (The Open Spaces Council) said they support the acquisition, but (Commissioner) Jan (Angel) basically said she didn't care. She has her agenda and, apparently, Olalla's not on it. I've asked what it would take. There's no real answer to that.Ultimately, he said, he wants to bring back the beach to preserve the multi-generational, community quality it had. We remember the small moments in life. We remember the day at the beach with mom and dad as much as we remember Disneyland, he said. It's always been the center of town. It's not like we're losing something we've only enjoyed briefly. It's always been here. "

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