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Council tries to buck harbor lease

"Keying on some alleged preferential treatment given to the city of Friday Harbor by the state's Department of Natural Resources, Langley City Council agreed Wednesday that it is time for the city to get rid of an expensive tidelands lease it has with the state agency.This year, Langley will pay the DNR almost $10,000 to lease approximately half an acre of tidelands underneath its Small Boat Harbor. That's up -- way up -- from the $10 in 1963, $50 in 1973, and $1,232 in 1990.At the council's regular meeting Wednesday, council member Bill Hawkins said the increase is unfair and the lease burden is too much for Langley's little harbor. Even worse, he said, Langley is one of just a handful of municipalities that must lease tidelands from the DNR in order to have a harbor. Port districts are not required to pay, nor is Friday Harbor, which negotiated its way out of its DNR lease last year.Council member Bill Hawkins said it is time for Langley to try to cut its own deal.Before we send them a check this year, we ought to negotiate this, Hawkins said.Last year, eight small cities -- including Langley, Friday Harbor, and Oak Harbor -- tried to legislate their way out of DNR tidelands leases. But a bill that would have exempted them from lease payments to the DNR failed on Gov. Gary Locke's desk, a victim of an unexpected veto. Council member Ray Honerlah said he cannot imagine that Locke vetoed the bill in hopes of maintaining tideland leases as a source of income, since the total dollars collected represent an insignificant portion of the DNR's budget.I've never understood the economics behind the veto, Honerlah saidWith no end in sight for the now-annual increases in the city's tidelands lease, Hawkins said the city has to get out from under the ballooning payments. Now is a good time to try, he said, since DNR chief Jennifer Belcher will not be running for re-election to her post. In the coming weeks Hawkins will attempt to negotiate to have the tidelands lease forgiven altogether."

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