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Freeland boat ramp improvements sought

"Complaints about the Freeland boat ramp were aired recently before the Port of South Whidbey commissioners.Although long, the ramp never reaches deep water, and that leaves boaters waiting for a higher tide, or dangerously trying to trailer their boats when the tide-driven waves are pushed by a north wind.Commissioner Jim Hawley encouraged friends from the Whidbey Island Fishin' Club to attend the port meeting, and several did. He was seeking public support for his own position that money should be spent to improve the ramp.Hawley, however, did not experience the last ramp extension as a port commissioner. His peers, Gene Sears and Jan Smith, did. That work was finished in 1996, took years longer than expected due to the permitting process, and cost many thousands of dollars more than anticipated due to environmental mitigation requirements, such as creating a new clam bed.Smith told Hawley and the four people in the audience that the commissioners were only trying to make the ramp better than it was, and always knew it would not be suitable for larger boats because of the shallowness of the harbor. That project also added floats alongside the ramp.Tom Roehl, port consultant, told the boaters that the present regulatory climate is even worse than it was in the early 1990s. However, he said, we do have a footprint out there, meaning that work could perhaps be done to improve the ramp without disturbing the beach.Hawley's idea is to place supports about every 25 feet down the ramp and put concrete panels on top, resulting in a longer driveway. Then, at the end of the current ramp, an extension could be added, sloped downward thanks to the heightened ramp.Hawley estimated the cost at $300,000 or less. It's not chicken feed, but it's doable, he said. Roehl estimated the cost somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000.Boat owner Bill Niles said he can only launch his 16-footer at a plus-8 tide or higher, and noted that at the end of the ramp there is is pure mud.It's not possible to stand up, he said.Don Hill said his 19-foot boat requires a plus-9-foot tide. At seven (feet) I get damage to the boat getting it in, he said.While appreciative of the input, Smith and Sears offered the boaters no immediate hope of boat ramp improvements. It was the project from Hades, Smith said, referring to the last ramp extension. "

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