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Tax increase may pay for new marina

Increase in property taxes would not go to a public vote

Port of South Whidbey commissioners continued to revamp their plans for rebuilding the Langley Marina this week, raising the price tag from $15 million to almost $20 million dollars while adding more boat slips to the mix.

At a workshop Monday, port commissioners also talked in detail for the first time on how the port expects to pay for the project.

The district is considering forming an “industrial development district,” which would give commissioners the power to raise property taxes without a public vote to pay for the new marina.

The number now on the table is a 45-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed property value. Taxes would be hiked for six years to pay for the marina upgrade; the increase is estimated to cost roughly $157 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

Dane Anderson, a financial coordinator for the port, later said the figures could change and the port could eventually raise taxes at a lower amount.

“Until we have a clear agreement on what we’re going to do, there’s no way to tell,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, port commissioners quickly switched gears to talk about the latest changes to the marina project. The port hopes to phase construction over four years beginning in 2010.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle noted that both cost and timing depends on the permitting process.

“We have no control over that,” Seitle said. “And in-water construction is limited to certain times of the year which can affect costs over a long period.”

“By constructing the marina in three phases, we lose economy of scale because the pods need to be built all at the same time,” port manager Ed Field said. “It is a proprietary concept and it would be hard to find a contractor willing to stop and start construction over a long period of time.”

The biggest change to the master plan is the removal of the star-shaped clusters of mooring “pods.” The pods have been replaced by a more conventional design that will cost less to build when the port takes control of the marina from the city in 10 months.

The plan currently under review begins with marginal changes to the uplands area. Under the plan’s Phase 1, there will be increased parking, new gravel roadways and a revamped boat ramp with a floating dock to provide safe access.

Phil Simon Park will be moved to the shoreline, the current

restrooms will remain and the port will park an operations trailer next to them. Minor upgrades to signs, park benches and landscaping are included.

Most of the port’s focus is on the water side.

An 80-foot gangway will connect the current piers with a new 500-foot walkway to breakwaters that protect slips capable of hosting boats up to 40 feet.

Made of concrete or aluminum, these floating docks are called “wave attenuators,” designed to minimize wind-driven waves from damaging boats.

The 125-foot-wide entrance to the marina has been moved from the northeast to the northwest in response to concerns raised by local boaters. Closest to the shore are finger piers designated as a small boat center.

The westernmost breakwater will offer tie-ups for larger cruise vessels and whale-watch boats.

The first phase is estimated to cost $7.8 million dollars.

Next, during Phase II of the project, the port will add another 300-foot breakwater for larger boats that will extend east. The old Nichols dock will be removed and either mooring pods or buoys for transient boaters will be placed outside the breakwater.

Port commissioners are considering the feasibility of combining both phases, which would cost a total of $16 million.

In Phase III, the current marina would be completely removed. A water taxi and a dinghy dock would be added, plus two more piers.

The ultimate layout includes 102 permanent slips. The breakwater can hold 10 40-foot boats and the outside mooring pods, another 48. Space for about 175 boats will be constructed.

The budget as yet does not include money for the relocation of the dive reef.

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden said the plans are not set in concrete.

“We’re inking in the first phase and penciling in the second and third phases,” she said. “A great deal depends on the city, local property owners, timing and permitting.”

Port commissioners were at odds over how to deal with the private property owners near the marina.

“We’ve assumed all along we’d get approval from Paul Schell to build in front of his Boatyard Inn,” Seitle said. “That may not be the case, however.”

Port Commissioners Slinden and Geoff Tapert want to hold a meeting with the city first.

“We need to work with the city and then approach property owners,” Tapert said.

“Yes, let’s get the city on board, maybe a series of sequential meetings,” Slinden said.

But Seitle insisted that the marina would be in the port’s jurisdiction, so finding out how neighbors feel is the main step.

Another concern centers on fueling facilities, another topic raised at the port’s public meeting last month.

Seitle favors fueling boats from water-borne barges, while Tapert thinks an above or underground tank located on the uplands could become a way of making money, especially if it serviced autos along with boats.

Anderson told commissioners that, depending on which options are chosen, the port will have to subsidize marina operations in the first phase but Phase II and III will be self-supporting. With a full-time harbormaster and part-time maintenance worker, the marina will return $48,000 through the year 2025.

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

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