Port scales back Langley Marina makeover

Assistant Harbormaster Duncan McPhee hoses down a walkway at the Langley Marina on Monday. The Port of South Whidbey is looking at a new plan for renovating the small boat harbor. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Assistant Harbormaster Duncan McPhee hoses down a walkway at the Langley Marina on Monday. The Port of South Whidbey is looking at a new plan for renovating the small boat harbor.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — With more choppy water ahead, the Port of South Whidbey is taking a new tack on its long quest to expand the Langley Marina.

Port officials said this week they’ve learned that it may be as long as two years before federal permits are in hand for construction work to begin on expanding South Whidbey’s small boat harbor.

And with the push to get something into the water sooner, rather than much later, port officials are looking at modifying their marina expansion plans yet again.

Time and money are the driving factors.

Port officials said this week the port wouldn’t be landing a much-hoped-for $1.5 million federal boating infrastructure grant, but also learned the permits to do the work planned would require greater scrutiny to make sure marine wildlife is not disturbed when piles that would help anchor the expanded marina are pushed into the sea floor.

Port of South Whidbey Commissioner Chris Jerome had a blunt assessment.

“We’re sucking wind on permits and we’re sucking wind on money,” Jerome said.

Jerome, president of the port board, told the Langley City Council this week that the port is expecting a long review by federal officials on the plan to monitor marine mammals in the marina area.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has informed us that it could be another six to 24 months before we get the permit,” Jerome said.

The port is now planning a more modest makeover, one that would reposition the 400-foot breakwater that was purchased from Bremerton for $350,000 in 2007.

The breakwater is actually comprised of three 133-foot sections, and the idea now is to separate one section from the other two and anchor the sections into a protective perimeter outside the existing 38-slip small boat harbor, giving boaters additional places to moor on the inside and outside of the breakwater sections.

The revisions are the latest in a project that has been repeatedly sent back to the drawing board in recent years. The port took over the marina from the city of Langley in 2009, and an early proposal envisioned a $15 million rebuild that would create spaces for 117 to 245 vessels, as well as room for float planes.

The port then downsized the project and went to voters with an $8.2 million bond measure to pay for it, but voters rejected the proposal and the port once again revised its plans.

Port officials have since looked at improvement scenarios ranging in cost from $2.2 million to $9.3 million.

Jerome said the newest proposal wouldn’t face a long wait for permits.

“It is a much smaller scale project than the big thing, but it’s still at least a 50 percent moorage [increase] with the available moorage,” Jerome said. “It will be modest but it will make a big difference.”

Beyond the permitting maze, money was also a main factor in revising the project, as port officials acknowledged that any in-water construction is costly and the chances for finding new, outside revenue streams to pay for the makeover were slim.

“We’ve just had to get real,” Jerome said.

Installing a new breakwater at the marina, port officials say, immediately adds about $1.5 million to the cost of the renovation project.

“The money is just not out there,” Jerome said. “This is something we can do and we can afford. And touch wood, it will get started next year.”

Port Manager Ed Field said the port has been in the permit process since August 2009. The cost of the revised project hasn’t been firmed up, but one estimate pegged the work at $2.5 million.

The new project would be an interim step toward a more major makeover, but scaled-back pile driving for the project would mean permits could be obtained earlier.

“What’s happening — and it’s being evidenced on all projects around the Sound — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is evaluating endangered species impacts very carefully and they are taking a very long time to do it,” Field said.

Port officials hope to go out to bid for the revised project by the end of the year. The renovations would also include removal of the derelict Hein dock near the small boat harbor, and the tire reef just beyond the marina.

“It’s not as big of scope, and we would certainly hope to have this project done in time for the 2013 boating season,” Field added.

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