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McElrath: A Letter About Being Neighborly... Featured

I have read, both the article Sharon wrote, Not Living the Dream on a San Juan Island Farm, and the editorial she felt compelled to follow up with, and I have a few thoughts and questions about what it is to be “neighborly”. That seems to be the big issue. The Amaros aren’t being friendly or neighborly in the “island way”. I’d like to address the items in the article point by point, if I may.

First, about the Amaros. In full disclosure, I don’t know them well. But, my daughter does and my wife does. It could be said I know THEM pretty well. My daughter has been friends with the Amaros youngest son since before the farmhouse was renovated, and has gone on family outings at their invitation. They have been generous and caring in their interactions with our daughter.

As to the article, the first item mentioned is Tommy Lawson. The Amaros allowed Tommy to keep his cattle grazing on their property. That seems friendly and neighborly. When the condition of the animals showed a clear danger to the health of the herd, especially new calves, the Amaros fed and cared for them. Seems neighborly to me. When They gave Tommy two months to find somewhere else to keep his neglected and mal-nourished cattle, they could have involved the Sheriff's Office. They did not. They could have and, perhaps, should have, but, somehow, I don’t think that would have been considered “neighborly”.

The next item concerns Tommy Lawson pouring concrete into pipes that bring water onto the Amaros property. Tommy says he did it because he was concerned that asbestos might contaminate the Town water supply. Even if that were true, would it not be considered “neighborly” to inform the Amaros and give them the time and opportunity to find another solution for their water?

Next, we have the Land Bank’s purchase of a piece of land that the Amaros had a documented Quit Claim Deed on. This land has water pipes running through it. It would seem be make “island friendly” and “neighborly” sense to make sure the Amaro’s claim to water rights were protected. When Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann was asked about this he said, "They didn't have a contract. There was one piece of paper, a deed with a signature on it." When the Amaros asked the county to agree that they had an implied easement, the county refused to do so. Bormann said, "We don't know if they have a water right." This seems like downright unfriendly and not neighborly behavior to me.

The next item in the article is the placement of the parking lot at the entrance to the Mount Grant preserve on the Amaros property. The article lists the many health and safety issues the parking lot created.

To deal with this the Amaros wrote several letters to the Land Bank asking for four things.

  1. A garbage receptacle.
  2. A fence between the properties.
  3. No pit toilets sited where they could be seen or smelled from the Amaros property.
  4. The Amaros indemnified by the county.

Asking. Not demanding. Please. Look at the list. Virtually every person I have shown this to, and explained what these people were having to deal with, told me that they would have asked for the same and they saw nothing on the list that was unreasonable (though I did have to explain to a few what indemnification was). After multiple meetings with members of the Land Bank and absolutely no willingness to move on ANY of the four requests (requests, mind you, not demands) Rami Amaro suggested going to mediation (still not hearing unfriendly, not-neighbor-like rhetoric here). Assistant Civil Prosecutor John Cain put off the proposed mediation and, when contacted by a mediator on behalf of the Amaro’s said that no specific issues to be resolved had been listed. (Um, see the above list of FOUR things)

It was only after several back and forth letters, three meetings, and putting off and stalling any attempt at mediation that the Amaros filed suit against the Land Bank. "

So without any possibility of mediation, and upset by what they perceived to be the Land Bank's lack of proper management of the preserve, the Amaros filed suit in San Juan County Superior Court. They are seeking a judgment that agrees with their interpretation of the easement which limits access to the subdivision's residents and their guests."

At this point, after many attempts at emotionally neutral negotiation, to seek redress of clearly articulated issues, the Amaros are seeking a judgement that could result in the Land Bank having to find a different access point to the preserve. It is not the outcome they sought when they first approached the Land Bank. It seems to me they have tried very hard to remain "island friendly" AND "neighborly".

And yet...

The same could not be said for many, many islanders. The Amaros have not turned their requests of the Land Bank into a fight of a personal nature. They have been civil, well mannered, and reasoning in search of relief. Yet, the visceral, personal hatred and vitriol directed at them seems unreasoned, and deeply disturbing.

I said I did not know them well. But I HAVE followed Rami’s posts as she attempted to hold conversations and discussions with people regarding these issues. Rami’s conversation and discussion threads are always civil, reasoning, and well thought out. What she gets back, far too much of the time, is hate-speak and vitriol and nastiness. It is so ugly, at times, I worry for their children.

There is behavior that is unfriendly and unneighborly and un-island like. But it is not the Amaros who perpetrate it.

Michael McElrath

San Juan Island

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