Ferry Tales: Share and Share Alike

Never in my wildest imagination did I foresee the effect the Covid-19 pandemic would have on our society, our economy, our health, and social and family life.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the price of oil would plummet to -$37.00 a barrel and tankers full of oil, having no where to unload their cargo, would be anchored in our Salish Sea.

Never in my wildest imagination did I foresee the Guemes Ferry waiving all fares in order to protect crew and customers from a very contagious and deadly virus.
Those wildest dreams and imaginations have turned into nightmares of reality.  Keeping many awake at night, pondering what the future will look like for themselves and their loved ones.

Guemes is one of the better places to be quarantined.  Neighbors check in on neighbors.  Food exchanges are common among the foodies. Firewood appears in wood sheds.  More groceries are available curbside  at our general store. Sounds like the Guemes we know and the reason many of us are here.

Spring weather has many walking mountain and beach trails during the quarantine. The beautiful trails and beaches  are much appreciated and quite helpful in keeping our anxiety in check.We are taking longer walks and revisiting trails and beaches that we’ve not had time to visit before the quarantine.

Guemes has its share of  privately owned tidelands (150) and has had for decades.  It is almost impossible to walk Guemes’ shoreline without crossing private property. There are very few “no trespassing” signs posted, however, that are strategically placed and visible from the beach. Neighbors recognize neighboring private tidelands. Neighbors  appreciate, beyond measure, the generosity afforded by being allowed to walk those beaches. To deny neighbors to walk through a private beach is unorthodox by Guemes standards.

Where does Mr Newcomer who bans even neighbors from his beach, go for a beach walk? Does he trespass against his neighbors or just pace endlessly between his imaginary lines?

The Public Trust Doctrine*,  Prescriptive Easements, high, mean, and low tide measurement, Lateral survey lines are all in place to protect private property and public access. To understand most of those policies a person has to be fluent in “legalese” and, even then, the law  is not clear. The  State sold tidelands until 1971 and the State Supreme Court has yet to rule on any public right to cross private beaches.

Walking along the shoreline in  order to ease some stress in these anxious times should be pleasant, not to a confrontation between Guemians.

- Commentary by MJ Andrak

* The Public Trust Doctrine was first spelled out in Roman law: “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea. ... All rivers and ports are public: hence the right of fishing in a port, or in rivers, is common to all men.”

The doctrine was passed down through English Common Law to the original 13 colonies and then to all the states of the union. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the general principle but has left interpretations to the states.

It is fairly well established that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to navigation, allowing a person to take a boat wherever the water goes. It doesn’t matter that the boat may be floating over private property.

In Oregon, most tidelands remain in public ownership. But even where there is private ownership the Legislature has declared that the Public Trust Doctrine allows people to walk across private property so long as they cause no damage.


Two articles that cover this issue well:

Kitsap Sun

South Whidbey Record

Tags: ferrry