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Port considers takeover of troubled ramp

New ramp project is already falling apart

FREELAND — Enough is enough; it’s time for Plan B at Bush Point.

And the chief engineer of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia agrees.

When Port of South Whidbey manager Ed Field reported to commissioners about more damage to the Bush Point boat ramp on Wednesday, the commissioners’ mounting frustration with the beleaguered project was evident.

Under the terms of the current 35-year agreement between the port and the state, the Department of Fish and Wildlife paid for and built the ramp. The port will eventually manage and maintain it. But both parties have a 90-day clause allowing either side to back out.

Last week, the ramp was opened to the public. Rings holding the floats to the pilings have since broken loose from violent wave action caused by passing cruise ships and freighters in Admiralty Inlet, however.

Additionally, the surface grid closest to the shore continues to deteriorate, and the restroom isn’t working.

Port commissioners told Field to contact the state and make it clear that the current terms of the agreement are null and void.

“The reason nothing is going to get done is that the current project managers are in Olympia,” said Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle said.

“But the public expects us to do something and full ownership is the answer. The port can’t spend taxpayer money unless we have a new agreement that we won’t take over until the site is perfect,” he said.

“We should not put money into any facility we don’t control,” Seitle said.

Commissioner Lynae Slinden agreed. “It’s a legitimate action to take, given our long history of dealing with Fish and Wildlife.”

However, Commissioner Geoff Tapert wanted to explore another avenue.

“I was thinking of doing the opposite — give Fish and Wildlife 90 days and see what happens,” he said. “They want us to accept a substandard product. Is that fair to our

constituents?”

“It’s like the Winchester (Mystery) House in San Jose; the lady felt she’d die if they ever finished, so they never did,” Tapert said. “But I may be the lone ranger on this subject.”

Field said the port could design the ramp and build a solid concrete underpinning below the grids that would solve one of the major problems. But he advised commissioners not to undertake such a project until the port can properly oversee the work.

“I would hope we can get Fish and Wildlife to assist in the permitting process,” Field added.

The port began working on Bush Point in 1998, and boaters and fishermen have long waited for water access on the island’s west side.

A variety of delays over the years — a septic versus sewer connection problem, discovery of an offshore surf smelt habitat, handicap-access needs — raised the cost and lengthened the timeline for completion.

Don Bartlett, chief engineer for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, is well aware of the situation at Bush Point.

“The problems there have been fraught with issues for many years, but our goal is the same as the port’s; safe access for fishers and others who want to get to the water,” Bartlett said.

He said the idea of outright ownership of the project by the port has merit.

“We need to look at that very closely,” he said late Thursday. “I’d be happy to have the port begin a correspondence directly with my office regarding the ownership issue.”

Bartlett noted that key concerns include the financial aspects and whether the agency and port can work out a resolution meeting everyone’s needs.

“If we are successful, I expect that both ourselves and the port will be the long-term benefactors,” he said.

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

The next regular port meeting is 7:30 p.m., Wednesday Sept. 12 at the Freeland Library.

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