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Port of South Whidbey rejects state offer to remove dock
FREELAND — Commissioners for the Port of South Whidbey have rejected, by a 2-1 vote, an offer from the Department of Natural Resources to remove the derelict Hein dock from the Langley marina.
Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle cast the dissenting vote at a special meeting Thursday.
Port officials said they didn't want to have the dock removed because the removal of the old structure later — when the marina is rebuilt — could be a vital part of the port's mitigation package for the marina makeover.
"Waiting is the appropriate thing to do because we're going to need these [mitigation] rights, which are worth far more than $133,000," said Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden.
Seitle disagreed, and said the future was uncertain.
"In a year or two down the road, who knows what the financial situation will look like," he said.
The offer, estimated to be worth $133,000, could have meant the loss of mitigation rights that the port will need for future permitting approvals to anchor the breakwater and build a new dock. Several port officials have said those rights may be worth more to the port than the cost of removing the 84 creosote-soaked pilings at the dock.
The port plans an $8.2 million renovation of the boat harbor; voters will decide on Nov. 4 the fate of a proposed property tax increase that would pay for the project.
The Department of Natural Resources has been removing derelict piers throughout Puget Sound under a state program to improve the marine environment. Several of the projects have fallen through or been put on hold, so Lisa Kaufman, a restoration manager with the agency, asked whether the port would be interested in having the state remove the piers at its expense since it will also be pulling out an old pier in Tulalip Bay, just across Saratoga Passage from Langley.
There are several reasons to take out the dock. The wharf is in the way of the port's proposed new marina, its piers are a potential environmental hazard and some say it's a civic eyesore for Langley residents and visitors.
At first glance, it seemed the port was being given a gift by the agency, one that would save South End taxpayers a lot of money.
The downside in accepting the offer, however, is the potential loss of mitigation rights, port manager Ed Field told commissioners.
To secure required permits, state and federal agencies require project managers to accumulate environmental credits to be used in the future, Field said. If the port pays to remove the Hein dock, those credits are preserved.
Another major roadblock is the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers has said the permits for the harbor expansion must be approved, not just applied for, before the Hein removal project can count toward the port's mitigation package.
"In short, under the current regulations we will not receive any mitigation credit for the Hein dock if it's removed before we have permits in hand for the harbor expansion," said Dave Anderson, the port's financial consultant.
"I have difficulty believing common sense won't prevail with these government agencies," Seitle said.
But Slinden said the marina expansion is the priority, not the piers.
"There will be grant money down the road we can use to remove the dock," she said. "My concern is if we accept the DNR offer, we'll have to look hard for mitigation credits regardless of the November vote."
Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said he found the timing a concern.
"What bothers me is the soonest we could do anything down there is 18 months," he said. "I really want to see some action taken now. I wish we had the ability to get the work done, but the state and feds are preventing that."
Anderson added that he and Field had discussed the problem with Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson, who is concerned about potential delays.
"We'd rather have the old dock taken out as soon as possible," Samuelson said in a later interview. "But I trust the commissioners' judgment that this decision will work for them in the long run. We want to see the boat harbor project moving forward."
The next port commission meeting is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Freeland Library.
Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.