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Port questions auditor’s role on marina deal

FREELAND — Port Commissioner Rolf Seittle hinted Wednesday that commissioners could ignore the state’s concerns over the port’s impending takeover of the Langley marina.

At the port’s regular meeting, Seitle had strong words for the state.

“I don’t think the auditor has a real voice in this matter unless a case of malfeasance has been uncovered,” Seitle declared during this week’s Port of South Whidbey meeting.

“We have had no communication with the auditor; it has all been through the city,” he added.

A month after port commissioners learned from the state auditor that the proposed agreement between Langley and the port over the marina’s ownership appeared invalid, commissioners wrestled with their next step.

Despite Seitle’s concerns, commissioners unanimously agreed they would host a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 16 at the Freeland Library with state officials. The meeting will include Jan Jutte, the auditor’s director of legal affairs, a representative of the state Attorney General’s office and Langley Mayor Neal Colburn.

Port officials said they wanted a chance to present their side of the marina agreement to the state. The port has long maintained that it will need to spend a substantial amount of money on the marina after the takeover, and those expenditures should be considered as part of the marina deal.

“We want the auditor to understand all the issues involved, as well as learn first-hand what their objections are,” Commissioner Geoff Tapert said. “It strikes me that we are indeed relieving the city of a significant burden.”

Commissioner Lynae Slinden agreed.

“I really hope the meeting resolves the issue of valuation,” she said.

“In my judgement, the initial agreement was valid and this is an opportunity to clarify that with the state,” Slinden said.

One issue commissioners want to explore is how much information on the property deal was sent to the state auditor by the city.

“If the state’s concern has to do with the level of negotiations before the agreement was signed, we have lots of documentation,” Tapert said.

Tapert said the port wants to solve any problems with the marina takeover and move forward.

On June 20, Jutte sent Langley officials a letter that said the city must receive “true and full value” for the marina property.

Over the previous five months, both parties had held sometimes discordant negotiations over the value of the marina.

The city and port debated the compensation issue for weeks. Some city officials said the marina property was worth $1.4 million, but port officials countered that the harbor had no value because it would be too expensive for a private developer to comply with regulations covering the property.

Port officials also said they should be given credit for the money that would be spent to improve the marina in future years.

Eventually, port commissioners offered a compromise. They proposed to take over the marina in January 2009 and pay the city $20,000 for two years.

Until then, the city would be required to use marina revenues — roughly $20,000 per year — on costs related to harbor operations, waterfront activities and maintenance.

Port officials have said othwer money they have committed to spend at the marina — including $200,000 for improving Phil Simon Park and the $350,000 breakwater — should be considered part of the purchase price.

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

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