City still looks to fight tidelands lease

"Faced with a lease payment exceeding $7,000 for about a quarter acre of tidelands, the Langley City Council is posturing for another showdown with the state Department of Natural Resources over what council members see as a needless expense.For the past three years, the council, city staff, and local legislators have searched for a way out of the lease, which has ballooned from a $10 annual payment in 1963 to almost $10,000 last year. State Reps. Kelly Barlean, R-Langley. and Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, introduced bills during the last two legislative sessions that would have given cities the same lease-free status as port districts when it comes to state tidelands, but withdrew the legislation after new DNR chief Doug Sutherland asked for time to review the issue.The city council also discussed turning the city's Small Boat Harbor over to the Port of South Whidbey to duck the lease charge, but decided against it. Port districts aren't charged for state tideland leases. Responding to the city's complaints over the skyrocketing lease rate, the DNR reviewed the charge late last year and reduced the lease charge.For the past few months, the lease has been a dead issue in council discussions. But when Councilmember Dione Murray noted a $7,144 charge on a list of claims warrants during Wednesday night's council meeting, she said the price was still too high to stomach.I don't think we need to be placated that this isn't over $10,000, she said.Murray was able to bend the ear of the one person who can put pressure on the DNR to do away with the lease. By coincidence, Rep. Barlean was in the audience at the meeting. Murray and Councilmember Bill Hawkins appealed to him to do something about the lease.Barlean did not have good news for the council. He said the ideal time to break the DNR's dependence on tideland leases may have passed. Low revenue projections and an initiative-shrunk state budget has taken away the legislature's negotiating power with state agencies.It's an uphill battle, Barlean said. I don't see any department giving up any opportunity to make a buck.The council agreed verbally to again look for a way out of a lease. Barlean did not say whether or not he would introduce another bill to put cities and ports on par for tidelands leases. A bill that did just this was approved by the legislature in 1998, however Gov. Gary Locke vetoed it. "

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