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Fire boat looks like done deal in port grant

South Whidbey Fire/EMS will get a new fire boat worth approximately $500,000 thanks to a federal grant confirmed this week by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

The cost of the boat is half the $1 million FEMA grant “for funds to be used this year,” said Larsen in a news release. He was compelled to pursue the matter after meeting last month with Port of South Whidbey officials at the Langley Marina.

Angie Mozer, finance director for the Port of South Whidbey, now sees the grant, for which the port has been angling for several years, as a done deal.

“It seems like it’s approved,” she said Thursday. “The port gets $1 million.”

The port will use the Federal Emergency Management Agency money to purchase a fire boat designed and operated by South Whidbey Fire/EMS.

Fire Chief Rusty Palmer had not been formally notified of the boat funding as of Thursday. “We’ve heard the rumor but no paper work,” he said. “But we are on the go for that.”

The chief said the fire boat has been in the district’s budget for three years and specifications have been put together. The FEMA grant money apparently has to be spent this calendar year, and getting the boat built on time is expected to be a challenge.

As designed, the boat could be used for water rescues, fighting fires from the water or evacuating people from the shore. The only boat the fire department currently has is a 1982 Zodiac, a trailered rubber rescue boat with an outboard motor. “My kayak’s two feet longer,” Palmer said. “It’s a really short boat and an unsafe platform at times.”

It’s uncertain if the port can spend the entire $1 million by year’s end. Mozer said bid documents have already been sent out for the marina expansion, and it does not include any provisions for the fireboat, other than moorage space. If a special moorage area isn’t built with FEMA money, then the fire district would have to pay moorage to the port.

Curt Gordon, port president, said earlier in the week “it would be nice if we could work it into the dock,” referring to the fire boat. He said FEMA might help make changes to the plans, but that’s uncertain.

Palmer, however, suggested the fire district would be willing to pay moorage if necessary.

More will probably be known by Tuesday, Feb. 12, when the port commissioners meet at 7:30 p.m. at the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District office, 5475 Maxwelton Road. Chief Palmer said he plans to attend.

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