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Port of South Whidbey comprehensive scheme passed under fire

Improving business growth, enhancing transportation opportunities and maintaining public access for waterfronts are a few the Port of South Whidbey’s primary goals over the next six years.

Those objectives, and others, were outlined in the port’s comprehensive scheme, a long-range public planning document that was adopted during the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Five people, not including a Record reporter, attended the hearing to share their concerns, including former port commissioner Geoff Tapert. He expressed disappointment over the document in comparison to the previous scheme crafted while he was a commissioner from 2005 to 2011.

“I read through it in five minutes,” Tapert said. “It’s pathetic.”

He further elaborated that the document lacked the vision of former commissioners and is a setback in the port’s long-term role in economic development. There are no good ideas for how to create a living wage in the area, he said.

“I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get the port in tune with what other ports do in terms of economic development,” Tapert said in a separate interview. “Now they are taking the easy way out, there’s nothing comprehensive about it (the plan).”

Commissioner Dennis Gregoire tried to respond to Tapert, as the former official stood up and appeared to be leaving the meeting as he was wrapping up his comments.

“This is barely cutting the surface,” Gregoire said. “The problem we got is we started some projects that, in my opinion, were way over the port’s head six years ago.”

“We need to focus on things we have the money to do,” Gregoire said.

Commissioners also heard suggestions to include a timeline for a few of the projects named in the document. Agreeing with the idea, Gregoire suggested creating a separate document with further information.

Commissioner Chris Jerome attended the meeting via webcam from North Carolina.

“I think we did a good job setting a high-level strategy,” he said. “It gives us a good framework for any projects that might go down the road.”

The board has been working on the document for months following an open house for review in November and a public hearing just before the meeting this week.

Deemed highest priority were three projects already in play: the expansion of South Whidbey Harbor, rebuilding the Possession Beach boat ramp and the installation of surveillance cameras at port and jointly owned sites.

The document also includes planned improvements in district financial performance and community relations, initiatives to maximize year-round occupancy at South Whidbey Harbor, better transportation, attracting family-wage businesses and work with Island County to add an economic development element to the Island County Comprehensive Plan.

The scheme also highlights several other possible projects, from analyzing the market to attract industrial and marine-related light industry, upgrading facilities at Bush Point, and providing additional opportunities for recreational kayaking and non-motorized boating at other facilities.

Commissioner Curt Gordon said they did their best to get the basic elements in the planning document, including items he thought were critical such as private-public partnerships to develop opportunities and improving transportation to enhance tourism.

“What we’re trying to do is open the door so when an opportunity comes along it’s in the (Comprehensive) Scheme,” Gordon said.

 

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