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Port divided on larger grant match

The Port of South Whidbey commissioners gave the go-ahead Wednesday to spend $128,000 more to better their chances of getting a state grant for major changes to the Langley Marina.

But not every commissioner liked the idea, however.

By a 2-1 vote, the commissioners more than doubled their financial commitment to secure funding to repair and raise the boat launch and upgrades to Phil Simon Park.

The move should strengthen the port’s chances to obtain a state grant for a $200,000 facilities grant from the state’s Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, or IAC. Twenty-one other projects, including the Oak Harbor Municipal Pier, are also vying for a share of the grant money.

With the increase, the local Langley part of financing the project would climb to $231,000.

The decision to devote more money to landing the grant came after port manager Ed Field learned Tuesday that the bigger the size of the local share promised by a grant seeker, the more favorable the IAC committee views the grant application.

The port and city of Langley each own a portion of the boat ramp, so they are working together to obtain the grant. In the arrangement, the port provides financial support and Langley staff donates labor and other administrative time.

With those roles in mind, port commissioners Gene Sears and Lynae Slinden approved upping the port’s financial support from approximately $103,000 to more than $231,000, almost half of the total cost of the project.

Before Wednesday, the port had pledged 25 percent.

Rolf Seitle, the port’s Langley representative, voted against the increase.

If the port raises the sponsorship amount, it should become the lead agency in the application process, Seitle said.

Langley presently owns the marina and Phil Simon Park, but could transfer ownership to the port next year. However, the port and city continue to wrestle with which agency should own the marina.

Questions include who can best care for the marina and the importance of retaining ownership to Langley’s identity.

Seitle also wanted to know the final cost to the marina before committing more money.

“I’m not willing to commit the port to an unknown expense,” he said.

The other commissioners pointed out that the port does have control over the final plans.

Slinden said their veto power provides the port commissioners with leverage against changes they dislike.

She added that the port’s role is financing projects that boost economic development in the area. Improving the boat launch and Phil Simon Park upgrades meet that goal by bringing more people to the marina and eventually into Langley.

With preliminary discussions on grant money distribution next Thursday, Sears said its important to boost the amount now.

Although estimates put the improvements at $413,184, the project may cost close to $500,000. It is an additional cost the port must pay, Sears said.

“We want to get as much as we can,” he said.

The port’s pledge pleased Langley’s mayor.

“I was happy to hear that they voted to increase the matching funds,” said Mayor Neil Colburn. Langley’s staff already carries out several duties at the boat launch, including weekly maintenance of the boat launch.

In addition, Donna Keilor, a member of the city staff, wrote the draft application before passing it to port manager Field for fine tuning.

The grant process next moves to Olympia next Thursday when Field and Langley Councilman Robert Gilman give a preliminary presentation with the other grant applicants.

IAC members will also look at the preliminary applications and suggest changes.

Final grant approval should occur in the next few months.

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