Port meets with state over controversial marina transfer

Port of South Whidbey manager Ed Field discusses a map of the Langley marina with state officials Monday afternoon at the Freeland Library. - Jeff VanDerford
Port of South Whidbey manager Ed Field discusses a map of the Langley marina with state officials Monday afternoon at the Freeland Library.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

FREELAND — Port commissioners are in the dark no longer.

Since they heard from the state Auditor’s Office in June that the marina agreement between the Port of South Whidbey and city of Langley might be in jeopardy, commissioners Geoff Tapert, Lynae Slinden and Rolf Seitle have been looking for answers.

On Monday, Jan Jutte, the auditor’s director for legal affairs, met with port officials and explained why the state had concerns with the property transfer.

“It appears that most of the effort in the agreement was placed on the concept that the property has zero value,” she said.

“We are having a hard time believing that there is zero value, given the information submitted by Langley,” Jutte said.

Jutte said when two government entities transfer property, the side that gives up the property should be paid for what she called its “true and full value.”

“It seems there are obligations the port will assume once it takes over and you need to show some value has been given to the city,” she told port officials.

Given the state of the marina and the city’s financial inability to repair or maintain the facility, Jutte said the port should press those points with the state to show the marina has diminished value.

“You need to show that to us more clearly with a plan that itemizes specific obligations,” she said.

The dollar amount of repairs should be substantial, Jutte warned.

“If you’re talking hundreds of dollars, we’ll have heartburn,” she said.

State officials also noted that the revised agreement between the city and port must detail serious items that could force the marina to shut down or dramatically reduce operations, above longer-term improvements that would be “nice” to have.

Commissioner Tapert said the port has much of the information already in hand. There are engineering reports that show the creosote-soaked timbers holding up the current docks have a 10-year life span.

“When they’re replaced with concrete and steel, the city doesn’t have enough reserve fund to deal with it,” he said. “We are relieving the city from that burden.”

Commissioner Seitle said that the port is taking over a liability, not an asset.

He also pointed out that the facility was originally created by taxpayer dollars, two-thirds from property taxes.

“If we were to assign some specific value, the taxpayers would end up paying twice since Langley is a subset of the port district,” he said.

“The issue of value was carefully considered during my negotiations with Langley; our focus was to make sure the city’s rights were protected,” Seitle added.

Jutte said the port and city had two courses of action:

• The port and city can continue to argue the case that the marina has no value, or;

• Find a way to demonstrate there is diminished value by clearly showing the obligations the port will undertake.

“But the most immediate burdens, those occurring within the next five years, will be more persuasive to my office,” she said.

Jutte also said the city should be clear in explaining the property that will be transferred.

“That needs to be more clear to us,” she said. “What exactly does the city own?”

Port manager Ed Field produced a map outlining the precise boundaries covered by the agreement.

“Basically, this is a boat ramp, parking lot, small park and docks?” Jutte asked. “There doesn’t seem to be much actual waterfront.”

Langley Mayor Neil Colburn told state officials that the city doesn’t have the resources to fix the marina.

“Whatever magic you can offer, we’re happy to comply,” Colburn said.

“Whatever we need to do to tweak or re-explain, we’ll do,” the mayor added.

Jutte said both sides should create a “memorandum of understanding” to accompany the takeover contract, with the memo detailing what the city is giving up and what the port’s fiscal obligations will be in the future, with emphasis on the next five years.

She said her office will review the memorandum and issue a finding as quickly as possible.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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