Port out of harbor project

Arguments, accusations and anger were the name of the game Wednesday at the Port District of South Whidbey meeting. After quarreling amongst themselves, the ports three commissioners voted 2-1 to pull out of the port’s agreement to take over the city’s harbor and pay for improvements.

The confrontational nature of the meeting also had Langley’s mayor and a member of the Langley City Council walking out before the vote was taken.

In a lengthy discussion of the future of the Langley Boat Harbor, port president Rolf Seitle said he felt the city of Langley had blindsided him in a city council meeting the week before. The March 2 council meeting ended with the council and port agreeing to sign and submit a Joint Aquatic Resource Permits Application (JARPA) to the state to begin improvements on the city’s boat ramp and Phil Simon Park.

But on Wednesday, Seitle said all existing agreements were off.

“According to what we heard, we have no part to this project anymore,” Seitle said, referring to a statement Langley Mayor Neil Colburn made the previous week in which he said the city would “pull back” from a harbor master plan.

Port Commissioner Gene Sears compared the March 2 council meeting to a “grand inquisition,” and said he felt the city was negligent in responding to recent port correspondence.

“I feel that we don’t know what in the hell is going on” Sears said.

Mayor Colburn and Langley councilwoman Rene Neff were at Wednesday’s meeting. During the meeting, Neff asked whether the JARPA agreement was off the table.

Sears suggested the two groups could redo the various projects one at a time. He made a motion to withdraw from all participation in all Langley projects. When Sears later called for a vote to the motion he made earlier, Sears and Seitle voted to approve the motion, while Slinden disagreed.

“That includes the grant application and everything,” Sears said.

After a brief pause, Colburn broke the silence.

“So something changed between the end of the last meeting,” he said. “Which meeting were you at?”

To that, Seitle said the city had not responded to the port’s most recent letter, which established conditions for transfer of the harbor and upland properties to the port. He also accused the Langley City Council of meeting and making decisions in secret.

“You have decided that you’re going to go it alone,” he said.

Commissioner Lynae Slinden reminded Sears and Seitle the port has a standing agreement with the city to repair the harbor’s parking area and Phil Simon Park. The port owns a portion of the boat ramp, which gives it an additional incentive to repair it. Langley had provided a specific plan to improve the ramp and had earned the port’s approval, agreement and funding for doing the application together for its improvement.

“We all looked at this and we all said ‘good,’” Slinden said about the inter-local agreement. “We approved the plan for this.”

She disagreed with Seitle and Sears’ claim the city had not followed through on its obligations.

“In my estimation the city has done everything we asked them to do,” Slinden said.

Slinden said, the port owes it to its constituents to fund a facility where it was sorely needed. She disagreed with Seitle and Sears’ decision to take their word back on the repair of the boat ramp.

Sears said that in the past two years the harbor’s plans had been discussed and no action had been taken.

“That city council meeting stopped everything from happening,” he said.

After further discussion of the boat ramp, Seitle reiterated the same statement he had made at the Langley City Council meeting the week before.

“We are not a granting agency,” he said. “We do not grant funds of that proportion for purposes like this without having control of the project.”

As the port’s representative to Langley, Seitle said he knows the harbor better than anyone on the city council. He said he was unpleasantly surprised at the council’s decisions, especially one to indefinitely retain ownership.

“I have been blindsided in my life several times in my career but I’ve never been as blindsided as I was last Wednesday [during the council meeting]” Seitle said.

He accused Langley City Council of meeting secretly on March 2 before the council meeting and had made decisions regarding the harbor. The meeting to which he referred was a city council retreat, which Colburn said is advertised and open to the public. No decisions may be made at council retreats.

“There were no decisions,” Colburn said.

Seitle responded sharply.

“You don’t think I was born yesterday,” he said.

Colburn and Neff left the meeting early.

“I think we’re done here,” Colburn said before he and Neff walked out.

Lynae Slinden further chastised her fellow commissioners.

“I’m ashamed of what we’ve done here,” Slinden said. “There’s no reason for the city to trust us on anything.”

On Thursday, Colburn said he was saddened by the meeting after hearing what he characterized as “rude” remarks from Seitle and Sears. He said South Whidbey constituents are being done a disservice by the port. He also wondered how further partnerships between the port and city would continue.

“They did a lot of damage to their own community and it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I just don’t think that we can work with them.”

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