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Port, city still at odds over harbor

Langley officials continue to press Port of South Whidbey commissioners for a mediated meeting to talk about improvements to the Langley marina, but commissioners said this week they’re still not entirely sure how the port should participate in the project.

Earlier this week, Langley Mayor Neil Colburn sent the commissioners a letter asking the port district to again meet with city officials so the relationship between the port and city can be improved. It echoed a similar request made in August for a joint meeting, and it initially appeared that the port would agree to the meeting so the two sides could find common ground and common goals.

At the port district meeting on Wednesday, however, commissioners made it clear they would need to huddle yet again before it would agree to a mediated public meeting with the city.

The rub between the two governments continues to be a proposed project to improve the city-owned Langley marina.

The port has set aside a total of $152,100 to match a grant given to Langley by the state Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation for renovations to the boat ramp, pier and Phil Simon Park. The money would also pay for better parking and restrooms, landscaping and a boardwalk.

Commissioners say they haven’t been provided a full description of exactly what the city has in mind for the marina, however.

Commission president Rolf Seitle set the tone Wednesday.

“It’s very important we discuss this and have a clear position from the port before any mediated meeting,” he said. “We need to agree on a position in these matters.”

Port manager Ed Field said the city has asked that he become more actively involved in the marina project.

“They want immediate involvement to address questions, followed by permitting and design,” he said.

Seitle and fellow commissioner Lynae Slinden didn’t think much of that idea.

“I suppose it’s logical for you to talk with (city engineering consultant) Donna Keeler, but I want no participation until the roles are clear,” Seitle told Field.

“I don’t want to see your time and energies be spent on this now,” Slinden added.

Another problem revolves around who’s to pay for design work and permitting, including changes to the original design.

“I view the port’s matching funds are for construction purposes, not permits and design,” Seitle said.

“The city is the lead agency and they haven’t requested any funding yet,” he added.

Though precluded from voting — he’ll be sworn in to take commissioner Gene Sears’ position Jan. 4 — commissioner-elect Geoff Tapert voiced concern that the port provide a clear voice.

“There seems to be a lack of focus on who does what; who is the proponent for the project? Someone has to lead, and that can’t go back and forth,” Tapert said.

Tapert suggested creating a subcommittee so the port can respond quickly to the permit process.

The Langley marina continues to be a priority issue for the city.

The council recently appointed members to a Harbor Advisory Board, a group that will offer advice about marina operations and serve as a liaison between boaters and the city.

Councilman Doug Allerdyce has agreed to serve as liaison to the port and attended last week’s port meeting.

He declined to jump into the fray over the proposed mediated meeting.

“I don’t have the history to weigh in on the subject,” Allerdyce said.

Mayor Coburn’s letter, sent Dec. 13, stressed that a mediated meeting could lead to a positive relationship between the city and port.

He reaffirmed “the City’s position that a mediated public meeting is a necessary and desirable next step...to improve the relationship between the City and the Port District. We remain optimistic that a well-designed and effectively-implemented process will produce positive results.”

The mayor also noted that the meeting would be facilitated by a neutral professional, convened in a public location, but without a public comment session. The mayor also suggested that no decisions would be made at the meeting.

“We wish to establish a a positive working relationship with the Port District,” the mayor’s letter said.

Port commissioners will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m., Jan. 4 at the Freeland Library, to consider a position on the request for the mediated meeting.

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