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Port considers smaller marina project

Costs climb on earlier proposal

Their first pass was a champagne-and-cavier marina with lots of bells and whistles.

Two months later, as financial reality raises its ugly head, the Port of South Whidbey is looking at a different scenario for redevelopment of the Langley Marina — a beer-and-pretzels version.

The port’s first rebuilding plan was pegged at just under $20 million and would need a huge transfusion of taxpayer dollars to build.

The latest iteration would cost

$2 million. But with a smaller price tag comes a much more modest project; the new development scenario would add just seven extra transient slips to the 35-slip small boat harbor.

Port officials will consider revising their draft plan yet again after the project cost of rebuilding the marina rose $5 million.

“The big reason that the overall cost of the marina rose from less than $15 million to almost $20 million is the phasing of the project over four or more years,” said port financial adviser Dane Anderson said. “The cost rises dramatically because you have to mobilize and de-mobilize construction each time you start up a new phase.”

Money is on tonight’s agenda at the port as commissioners will once again wrestle with the short- and long-term funding options for the Langley Marina.

It’s all about slips. The more tenants tie up their boats and pay the monthly dockage fee, the more money is available to pay for maintenance and operations.

Under an earlier proposal for rebuilding the marina — the “phased-in” plan — port officials considered the idea of creating a special industrial district at the marina property.

The special district would give the power to raise property taxes without a public vote, and public criticism of the port’s plan quickly surfaced after property owners learned they could be on the hook for hundreds of extra dollars in new property taxes every year.

Earlier this week, port officials said that three-phase project would also need to be subsidized by taxpayers through the year 2013 when dockage and business rental fees finally exceed maintenance-and-operations costs.

Nothing is set in stone yet, however. Commissioners have not made a final decision on which redevelopment scenario will work best, or what boaters will be charged to use the expanded facility.

Anderson said that marina user fees will be based on fees charged by marinas in Everett, La Conner and Oak Harbor.

“One of the challenges we face is that fees are driven by the market,” Anderson said. “We will charge what we think people will pay and a 3 percent annual increase is factored in.”

How long taxpayers will subsidize the operations and maintenance of the new marina will depend on the number of slips built, which officials said is driven by the port’s ability to find construction money.

It’s a question port commissioners would like to see answered soon. In just over 10 months, the port will take ownership of the marina from the city of Langley and there are still no firm design plans in place.

Likewise, the $20 million marina plan is still on the table.

Beyond creating a special taxing district to raise money for the renovations, other options include a general obligation bond that would be paid back with tax revenues, and grant funding from various government agencies.

The Department of Natural Resources, for example, provides money to remove creosote-soaked piers. The department has a fund of $4 million over the next two years and has been working with Bellingham, Gig Harbor and Port Hadlock on similar projects.

Grants are good but it won’t be enough.

This week the port is deciding on a facilitator to preside over a meeting between the port and city.

“Both groups want to see the marina move ahead,” said port manager Ed Field. “A facilitator will help smooth out any differences that arise.”

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

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