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"Friends, fishermen pitch projects to Port"

"Fishermen and anti-development advocates had the loudest voices Wednesday night as they tried to convince the commissioners of the Port of South Whidbey to make a planned boat launch and fishing pier and an 18-acre park priorities in the agency's six-year comprehensive plan.Half a dozen fishermen from the Bush Point area and from the Puget Sound Anglers fishing club lobbied commissioners Jan Smith, Gene Sears, and Jim Hawley throughout a two-hour public hearing, asking and nagging them to finish Bush Point fishing facilities planned more than two years ago.Also piping up out of the 50-strong hearing crowd in the Trinity Lutheran Church meeting room were members of the Friends of Freeland, a group that is negotiating to purchase 18 acres of Freeland commercial land for the purpose of developing it into a park.Bush Point resident Larry Schneider summed up the frustration of South Whidbey fishermen over the Bush Point pier and boat launch, which is a cooperative project of the Port and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. What's taking so long to get this thing done? he asked.Other fishermen also expressed concern that a drawing of the project in the Port's planning document shows a proposed boat ramp that is wide enough to launch just one boat. That won't do, said Puget Sound Angler Al Pike, because those dimensions will cause a traffic backup at the ramp while one boater at a time launches or recovers his or her boat.Tom Roehl, the Port's planning officer, told the fishermen that the delays in the project are being caused by Fish and Wildlife (see accompanying story.) Commissioner Gene Sears said the commissioners hope to work through the red tape and start construction this year.Believe me, I am very frustrated, Sears said.The Friends of Freeland saved their commentary until the end of the meeting. Giving what amounted to a presentation, Friends member Herb Hunt showed off conceptual drawings for a park and nature area on 18 acres of land sandwiched between Scott and Newman roads. The Friends attempted to purchase the land in an auction earlier this month, but their $275,000 bid was rejected. They are now negotiating with land owner Chris Kelly to purchase the commercially-zoned land for a price more to his liking.Friends member Jane Seymour asked the port commissioners to consider adding the proposed project to their comprehensive plan. He said the Friends -- a group of more than 100 South Whidbey residents who have given individual donations toward the land purchase ranging from $2 to $150,000 -- will purchase the land on their own. Seymour said she hopes the port can contribute toward wetland restoration, trail building, and the conversion of buildings already on the property into a community center.This is what the Port of South Whidbey ought to be supporting, she said.Other portions of the port's comprehensive plan that drew commentary included the possible purchase of the Kenmir property at the Clinton ferry dock, the purchase of public beachfront at the dock, the purchase of additional land adjacent to Freeland Park, port funding of an expanded Langley Small Boat Harbor, the proposed construction of a community center at Maxwelton Beach, and a proposal to build a boathouse and floating pier at Freeland park for small rowing boats, kayaks and sailboats.Of those projects, commissioners Hawley and Sears said the Kenmir purchase is the least likely, since the $1.4 million price tag is too rich for the port's blood. Hawley said buying the property and converting it into a park falls outside the port's goals.It's not the business we're in, primarily, he said.Commissioner Smith went against her colleagues' assessment, saying a park at the ferry dock is on her list of priorities.I do favor the project, she said.There were also proposals for a couple of more whimsical projects. Al Pike said the port missed an opportunity when it failed to claim a derelict tugboat that floated into Useless Bay earlier this year. Pike said the boat could have been sunk and used as an underwater reef and diving area. Armed with a less expensive proposal, Mike Joselyn asked the commissioners to pay for a Welcome to Freeland sign to be posted on Highway 525 where it would be visible for southbound traffic. There is already a welcome sign south of town.The commissioners closed the hearing at 9 p.m., but noted that written comments about the comprehensive plan will be taken until the port's April 11 meeting. "

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