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Discussion is first step in Langley harbor expansion

Over 30 South Whidbey residents showed up Wednesday to put in their two cents on the future of the Langley Small Boat Harbor.

The city's Planning Advisory Board hosted Jim Brennan, the principal landscape architect and planner for JA Brennan Associates, the firm hired to design the "big picture" for the future of Langley's waterfront.

The public meeting was the first of three planned to iron out a vision for the harbor, according to Lynn Hicks, Langley's city administrator and attorney. The second and third meetings are tentatively planned for September and January. By the city, along with partner agency the Port District of South Whidbey, anticipate having a plan in hand by March 1.

At present, the Small Boat Harbor has enough slips to accomodate approximately 30 boats. It was built with floating piers and a wood breakwater over the past 25 years. During the 1970s, the city tried to build a floating breakwater from recycled tires, but it wound up sinking. It is now habitat for fish and a diving destination.

The most recent harbor expansion came four years ago when the city added a new pier.

Brennan led the group in a two-hour workshop to get ideas on how residents envision the harbor in the future. With several maps of the harbor taped to the wall and a slide show, Brennan said he wanted to residents to come up with their own ideas for the harbor.

Some residents voiced concern over boundary lines. Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman cut them off, then explained who owned which tide flats. However he said what land the city owns and what land it leases were not the main issue of the evening.

After Brennan presented a slide show of examples of other cities and their ports and harbors, the group divided in two to brainstorm ideas for Langley's harbor.

"What do you want this place to be in the future," said Brennan.

One of the biggest concerns at the meeting was the lack of parking in the area. Residents said they would like to see more parking spaces for day use visitors as well as trailer parking.

A concern for some residents who own beach property was the erosion of nearby beaches, which they said have been depleted of sand in the last 25 years. Many blamed the creation of the harbor and hits wood breakwaters as the cause of the problem.

The sand, according to many at the meeting, is becoming a sediment problem in the harbor, which makes launching boats a problem.

"Our house may end up in the drink," said one resident.

Langley residents also voiced concern about raw sewage washing up on the beach and worried that an expansion of the harbor would create a bigger mess. One woman said she was tired of finding human waste and toilet paper on her beach property, dumped by boaters.

Cleanup of the beach was a large concern for many.

"The city should manage the beaches they have," said one resident, who explained she thought the quality of Langley's beaches has gone downhill.

Included in the cleanup of the beaches was concern for the wildlife in the harbor. One man said he remembered when the harbor was teeming with wildlife, but now everything looked dead. It was agreed among everyone at the meeting that the quality of sea life, including shellfish, will be an important consideration in expansion in the area.

Some suggestions that came in to Brennan included a 50-foot, 15-minute load and unload area on the dock, a fuel dock, a fish cleaning station, commercial slips, a tour boat dock and seaplane access.

While many of the suggestions were tourism-based, suggestions also were made for a pedestrian-friendly park, picnic area and children's play areas on the beach.

In support of the expansion, over 50 store owners in Langley signed a petition and presented it to the Langley City Council. In the petition, store managers and owners stated expansion could bring in valuable dollars from tourists enticed by an improved harbor to visit Langley.

"They are, in fact, exactly the sort of visitors we need and want in order to prosper," the letter said.

Absent from the public meeting were Linda Moore, owner of the Langley Marina, and city harbormaster Ben Reams.

His absence was noticed, but Furman said he has been in communication with Reams over the subject of expansion.

Also absent from most of the meeting were South Whidbey Port commissioners. The city meeting was scheduled for almost the same time as the Port's regular meeting. Only commissioner Rolf Seitle was able to attend a portion of the meeting.

From the ideas and concerns voiced in the meeting, Brennan will go to the drawing board to make some tentative plans. Residents will get a chance to review actual plans at the second meeting, where they can pick aspects of any of them to put towards the final preferred plan.

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