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Port unveils update of comp plan

CLINTON — Port of South Whidbey commissioners weren’t sure anyone would show up as they unveiled the first public iteration of their comprehensive plan last week.

Commissioners and the hard-working volunteers on the comp plan committee were a little surprised when more than 35 South Enders made their way to the Clinton Community Hall. Many were members of the island’s kayaking community, who made a show of force to underscore the importance of access to port facilities by non-motorized boats.

Port officials started the meeting by thanking the group that revised the port’s comp plan, the document that will guide the port’s priorities over the next six years. Work on the comp plan began last November.

“The sensitivity of these people to South Whidbey Island has been outstanding,” Commissioner Geoff Tapert said as he introduced the committee. “They’ve maintained a fine sense of balance as they weighed the needs of business, tourism, recreational boaters and the environment.”

Port manager Ed Field recapped the current status of the port’s holdings, including the newly-acquired small boat harbor in Langley that the port will take over in January 2009.

“Langley is a long-term situation. Our first priority is to get the engineering done for the breakwater and then get the Harbor Master Plan updated,” Field said.

Tapert said one reason for the comp plan is that the port needs it to apply for state and federal grants.

“We hope to diversify our funding from several sources,” he said.

One idea is an Industrial Development District.

“We can legally tax up to 45 cents per $100,000 in assessed property value for six years, renewable for another six,” Tapert said. “This is just one funding mechanism on the table. The point is we’re a transparent organization and want your input to tell us what you think. And what we’ve missed.”

Commissioner Rolf Seitle added that the port has the resources to maintain facilities and keep up with operating expenses.

“But we can’t do anything major without the community’s advice and consent,” Seitle said.

“And, of course, construction costs are rising all the time,” Tapert added.

Langley’s Laurie Keith, for one, thinks the port is doing the right thing.

“I appreciate the excellent job they’re doing. It appears all this was done in a harmonious process and that’s refreshing,” she said.

Some of those attending were pleased with the port’s recognition and support of non-motorized watercraft. Kay Swanson and Ed Young are members of the Whidbey Island Sea Kayakers organization.

“Their plans are good,” Young said. “Kayakers tend to stick around when they visit and spend discretionary income. It makes good business sense to support WISK.”

Drew Dixon said that the port’s facilities are very important.

“Those sites on the shore are used by me and my friends all year long,” he said.

Another WISK member, Kelly Keith, hopes more folks can try kayaking.

“It feels so special,” she said. “You have to understand the way things work on the water — waves, tides, sea life, the weather. It really is magical.”

The port’s plan highlights the work that will be done at properties owned or managed by the port.

The port shares ownership with the county over three properties; Freeland Park, Mutiny Bay and Maxwelton Beach.

The port maintains the dock at Freeland and the county handles on-shore duties. At Mutiny, the port owns the ramp and one lot to the south.

“There’s a lot of maintenance because of sand buildup, but the county handles that,” Field said.

The port is currently upgrading the bathroom at Maxwelton Beach and considering the possibility of upgrading the bleachers at Dave Mackie Park’s baseball diamond.

The port has total control over Possession Park at the island’s south end where it has updated the on-site caretaker residence. A new septic system is also being installed.

As for Bush Point, Field said that the Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the process of repairing damage from last winter’s storms.

“As soon as we can get it operational, we will,” he said.

Public comment on the draft plan will be accepted until May 30. The port will compile the responses and hold public hearings before final adoption sometime in July or August.

To view the plan, visit www.portofsouthwhidbey.com or call 331-5494.

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