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Bush Point fishing dock and boat launch gets OK; work starts in 2005

Plans for improvements at Bush Point took a gigantic step forward Wednesday.

The Port District of South Whidbey now has a permit in hand from Island County giving permission to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to construct a public boat launch and dock at the popular fishing spot.

"It's a big step forward, and we're getting closer," Port Commissioner Gene Sears said in an interview Thursday.

Sears estimated that construction could begin at Bush Point as soon as late summer, 2004. He said planning and permitting has taken almost three years, but the effort will be worth the wait to many South Whidbey boaters and anglers.

"When it's done, it'll be a great thing for them," said Sears.

Years in the planning, the project has been both a beacon of hope and a source of disappointment for island fishers. The work has been delayed repeatedly because of permitting issues, despite the regular attention of the Port's late project manager, Tom Roehl.

Estimates by the Port have had construction being completed in January or February 2005.

In 1999, the Port entered into an ownership/management partnership with Fish and Wildlife to operate and manage the Bush Point property once it is completed. Management, maintenance and operation of the new facility will be handled by the port.

The total cost for the project is approximately $1.7 million, according to Sears, but the money will come out of Fish and Wildlife's pocketbook. He said the department receives grants to make such projects possible, and brings the facility to South Whidbey at little or no cost to county or state taxpayers.

Approval of the boat launch was dependent on finding and improving a site to create near-shore fish habitat to make up for that which will be lost during construction of the boat ramp and dock. By law, Fish and Wildlife is required to provide additional salmon habitat to offset any habitat loss resulting from construction of the new boat launch.

The chosen site is in Penn Cove, where several hundred feet of bulkhead must be removed to increase near-shore habitat for surf smelt and sand lance, creatures on which juvenile salmon feed. The mitigation work is scheduled to take place in early summer 2004.

Also needed to start work at Bush Point are further shoreline permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Once completed, Sears said Bush Point will have undergone many changes. Before construction can begin, the old sling launch system will need to be demolished.

When finished, he said, the public boat launch and dock will be a convenient place for boaters to launch near great fishing opportunities. Two separate parking lots will give cars and trailers ample room.

The engineering portion of the project will be bid May.

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