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Plans stall for public beach at Clinton

Some Clinton residents seemed to be saying "Give our beach a chance," at Wednesday's Port of South Whidbey meeting.

Ten islanders, most from Clinton, were at Wednesday night's meeting to voice their support for creating a park adjacent to the Clinton ferry dock, on a site currently occupied by a parking lot and structure known as the Kenmir building.

"I am urging the commissioners to be visionaries about this project," said Clinton resident Mike Helland. "I want my grandchildren and their children to have a beach in their community to enjoy."

What Helland and others wanted out of the port commissioners was funding to do a feasibility study on establishing a park on the Kenmir property. They were not at the meeting to encourage purchasing the property, which has listed for $1.4 million and has been appraised by Island County at $419,607.

The cost of the study is estimated to be a comparatively small $8,000, but it was too much for Port Commissioner Gene Sears. Sears also questioned the viability of the property as a park.

"We've already spent money applying for a grant that we didn't get," Sears said. "The area we are talking about is too small, with too much traffic congestion from the ferry traffic already."

The site consists of a two-story building on 300 feet of waterfront and a half-acre of land.

The request for funding caused disagreement between Sears and port Commissioner Lynae Slinden, who said she believes it appropriate to fund the study.

"It is time to move ahead," Slinden said. "The Clinton pier and Humphrey Road parking lot are port property and they would tie in nicely with a public beach. The community will wonder why we can't look at it further."

Slinden reminded Sears the port has about $750,000 budgeted in its six-year comprehensive plan for a proposed park and beach project at the dock. She said $8,000 is affordable.

Backing Slinden up, Mike Helland said a study will give the commissioners tools to work with, and something to show to other agencies that might chip in for a park project.

"You might have other partners out there such as the county and the ferry system to help develop the park," he said.

Bob Edwards, president of the Clinton Forum, a volunteer group developing plans for Clinton's future, said the top issue for his group is providing public beach access to residents and the ferry traffic. A park on the Kenmir property would accomplish this.

"Take the lead, the community is behind you," he said.

Several outdoor recreationists spoke about the convenience of having a park in Clinton for kayakers and bicyclists.

Commissioner Sears, however, said he was concerned about maintaining the port's financial stability. Getting into debt, he said, is not an option.

"We don't want to be a in a position where we have to borrow money if the purchase price is so high you can't see daylight."

The port's annual tax revenue is $422,650, operating costs are $140,000 per year. it started the year with $1.3 million in the bank and is forecasting $2.1 million in savings by 2007.

Even with that money in the bank, Sears said the port has already spent a great deal of money on a study for a grant, a grant, if won, could help purchase the property.

"It may be time to stop," he said. "We may never have enough information."

Helland said the study would be just a beginning, an assessment that may open other avenues of funding.

"You as a municipal entity could negotiate with Washington State Ferries," Helland said. "We were a fishing community. We don't have the fish, but people are still interested in accessing the beach."

Last year, a petition supporting purchasing the Kenmir property to create a public beach and park was signed by 750 Clinton residents.

The port commissioners agreed to meet again on Oct. 22 to discuss the feasibility study further.

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