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Port searches for marina money

FREELAND — First, there was the plan.

Now comes the search for the money to make the plan work.

On Monday, Port of South Whidbey commissioners met with representatives of the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

The organization acts as a clearing house for public bodies that need money for projects having a direct impact on the economy.

The port was looking for guidance on how to raise funds to pay for the South Whidbey Marina master plan. Discussions to date have centered on building a couple of three-story buildings on the port’s publicly-owned property and a state-of-the-art dock arrangement for up to 100 boats of varying lengths.

Dick Larman, the department’s director of business and project development, and regional director Sally Harris were receptive to the port’s questions and encouraging, as well. But they wanted to know more.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle explained that Langley has been struggling for years to find ways of upgrading the marina. He noted that the port will assume control of the property in January 2009.

“The idea has great support from the retail business community there,” Seitle said. “Our plan allows commercial activity benefiting the entire South Whidbey area and we believe this is the best opportunity for the port to boost economic development.”

The port’s master plan for the marina is ambitious and expensive; as much as $15 million will be needed over the next 10 years. While the port is hoping to create what it calls a “public/private partnership” to help finance new commercial buildings near the marina, commissioners have pledged to seek funding from a variety of sources.

They also haven’t ruled out asking voters for a special property tax levy to pay for the project some time in the future.

Larman said that his group can help the port search for money.

“Although most of the dollars we can access are for construction projects that will furnish job opportunities, there is $250,000 available for tourism projects that might fit your needs,” he said.

Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said the port needs to find funding sources beyond moorage fees.

In response, Larman also mentioned the governor’s $4 million dollar strategic reserve account.

“They can pay up to $300,000 for a specific project,” he noted.

Sharon Hart from the island’s Economic Development Council suggested asking for help at the federal level.

“Check with the legislative aides to Senators Cantwell and Murray,” she said.

Larman said that while that may be a worthwhile idea, federal dollars are difficult to get.

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden asked if an industrial development district — a method of taxation that doesn’t require a public vote — might be applicable.

“Normally, IDD’s are for intensive, large-scale construction projects and there are also political hurdles involved,” Larman said.

In the end, Larman said he didn’t have anything in his hip pocket. But the situation isn’t that bleak, he said.

“Coming here today puts us in the loop on what you are doing,” he said. “We have several planning sessions coming up and now we know a lot more about the project.”

Larman and Harris visited the marina site before catching the ferry to the mainland.

Port manager Ed Field said his sense was that the state would be taking a close look at funding mechanisms that the port could tap into.

“We don’t fit into the typical industrial applications they normally work with,” Field said,

Meanwhile, the city of Langley continues to review the port’s proposed master plan.

Mayor Paul Samuelson and Seitle will meet this month to discuss the city’s views.

On Jan. 23 at Freeland’s Trinity Lutheran Church, the port plans a meeting to get comments from the public.

Since unveiling the proposed marina plan late last year, port officials have not released further details on potential commercial development of the public property at the Langley Marina or its discussions with developers who may be interested in participating in a port project on the Langley shoreline.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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