Langley boat job prompts concern

"Until May, it will be the biggest building in Langley. Right now, it is also the biggest headache in town for city permitting staff, police officers, and some residents.It is the Capital Queen, a Mississippi riverboat that is moored at the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders dock in Langley Harbor. Through May, the five-story boat will undergo a refitting meant to convert it from a gambling boat to a cruising and dinner boat.Work toward this end starts every weekday at 7 a.m. and runs through 8 p.m. For much of that time, the work is noisy, with 80 to 150 workers pounding, sawing, welding, and otherwise banging around inside the boat’s empty interior.That noise and all the cars the Nichols employees daily park in town have generated a number of written and phoned complaints to the city. That has kept the Langley Police Department busy patrolling the parking lot at the Langley marina area to prevent Nichols employees from filling spots meant for boaters and park users, and has the city’s building official preparing an after-the-fact administrative review.Nichols Brothers certainly did not expect this reaction. Two years ago, the Freeland-based company signed a contract with Langley allowing it to work on its boat building projects at the Langley dock facility. Although the company could have done the work on the 216-foot boat at its Freeland yard, time constraints and the expense of moving the boat onto dry land made the Langley facility a better option.“It would have been a very expensive operation to haul the boat into the yard,” said Langley dock supervisor Ken Schoonover. “We saved 10 days working on it here at the dock.”In the face of criticism, Nichols Brothers says it is doing everything possible to minimize disturbances to the environment and the citizens of Langley. Schoonover said last week that the company is a bit surprised that the Capital Queen project has to go through an administrative review. Prior to starting work, company president Matt Nichols went before the Langley City Council to explain the scope of the refit project. “I guess the blessing of the council was not enough,” Schoonover said.Before the administrative review begins, the company is trying to assuage Langley residents’ complaints to the point that the review will only be a formality. To keep its employees out of public parking spaces, the company has its employees parking their vehicles at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, in spots at the old Langley Marina building, and in Nichols’ small lot at the dock. Buses purchased by the company transport workers between the church parking lot and the worksite.“Quiet work” in the wee hoursTo keep noise to a minimum, the company is restricting cutting, welding, and grinding work to the 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours. When a full crew of 150 workers starts on a 4 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. schedule in January, “quiet” work such as carpet laying, wiring, and painting will fill the dark, wee hours.As for environmental concerns, Schoonover said Nichols Brothers does not plan to do any exterior work on the Capital Queen, save some roller painting. Debris, metal shavings, and runoff are being contained within the boat and on the barge lashed to its landward side. In accordance with the rules set up between the company, Langley, and the state Department of Ecology, nothing hazardous will fall into the water, Schoonover said. The hull of the boat was emptied of water and fuel prior to its arrival in Langley.In addition, the company has its own trained fire crew on the job site at all times.Company hasn’t followed all rulesBut, a city official says the company has not followed all the rules it agreed to with the city in 1997. Langley building official Bob Snyder said last week that Nichols’ contract with the city allows the company to outfit new vessels and conduct sea trials from the Langley dock. It does not mention a refit of an old vessel like the Capital Queen.That does not mean the company cannot do the work it is doing, but Snyder said it is clear that Nichols did not follow the proper procedure to get the project approved by the city. He said the company needed to go through an administrative review process prior to moving the Capital Queen to Langley. “This is a modification of the approved use,” Snyder said.The review would have included hearings before the city’s Design Review Board and Planning Advisory Board. The company would have also been required to complete an environmental review to demonstrate the risks its work would pose to the fish and other creatures in Langley Harbor.As the situation is now, Snyder said the noise, parking problems, and environmental risks associated with the project are generating regular complaints among Langley citizens.“This has a major impact on the city of Langley,” Snyder said.Snyder expects Nichols Brothers will have to complete an environmental review, keep closer tabs on where its employees park, make concessions on when it does its noisiest work, and may have to redirect or dim some of its dock and shipboard lighting. The city will also look at the company’s fire protection plan. Kayaker questions some activitiesAssurances from Nichols Brothers do not remove the doubts from everyone’s mind. Langley-area resident Dan Neumeyer said he has kayaked near the Capital Queen a number of times since it arrived at the Langley dock. He said he has seen Nichols employees welding and grinding the exterior of the ship. Once as he watched from his boat, he said a worker washing one of the upper decks allowed overspray to fall into Langley Harbor.A walk around the Capital Queen lends credence to some of Neumeyer’s concerns and, at the same time, to Nichols’ insistence that it is controlling waste diligently. The exterior work areas aboard the boat and the barges are largely clean and free of debris -- thanks to a crew of nine clean-up workers, said Ken Schoonover. But, on the seaward side of the boat, a few metal shavings can be seen scattered to the edge of the barge holding the Capital Queen out of the water. And, though much of the runoff and wash water aboard ship is piped through deck drains, some still drips down the sides onto the barges below. Small messes like this do get cleaned up, Schoonover said. But Neumeyer maintains with all this activity going on, some hazardous materials must be dropping into the water. Since seeing what he did from his kayak, Neumeyer said he even worries about how safe it is to eat the crabs he pulls out of the crab pot he keeps in the harbor.“I’m wary about it any more,” he said.What Neumeyer has seen only raises questions in his mind about how the work is being done, but not about whether it needs to be done. He does want his fellow islanders to make a living.“I also see there are 30 or 40 jobs for my neighbors,” Neumeyer said.The work on the Capital Queen is expected to last through May."

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