Marina supporters see small boat harbor project as financial boost

FREELAND — Commissioners for the Port of South Whidbey are hoping their plans for the new South Whidbey Marina will meet with voter approval next Tuesday.

With the economy edging over a precipice, port officials said the marina upgrade will improve the financial outlook for the entire South End, and not just Langley.

The idea isn’t new. A master plan for the marina was presented to the port and city in the spring of 2004, but nothing really came of it because the city owned most of the facility but lacked money for major improvements. The port will take ownership of the small boat harbor in January 2009.

The port plans an $8.2 million 100-slip marina in Langley, including

65 permanent and 35 transient slips, to be paid for by a 20-year levy costing South End taxpayers 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

If the measure passes on Nov. 4, homeowners would see a roughly $32 per year increase for a home valued at $360,000. Currently, the port collects 10.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, so the total levy for an owner of a $360,000 home would be approximately $70 a year.

“The money raised is exclusively for constructing the marina,” said Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle.

“This will be a boon for all of South Whidbey, bringing in more than $2.3 million in added revenue,” he said. “We already have 56 people on a waiting list for a permanent slip, which will enable the marina to be self-sustaining and cover overhead costs.”

Commissioners believe that the marina will dramatically improve the harbor environment, bring in needed tourist dollars and act as an emergency stop for ferries should a disaster, natural or otherwise, damage the Clinton ferry dock.

Port manager Ed Field explained that the old creosote-soaked Hein dock would be removed, and improvements made to Phil Simon Park and the boat- launch ramp. He added that new parking would place cars next to the bluff, leaving the water side free for people to enjoy.

“There will be a special, protected place reserved for non-motorized boat activities, including kayaks, canoes and small sailboats,” Field said. “It’s expected that fishing and crabbing access will be vastly improved.”

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden said the final plan was worth all the design changes made based on public input.

“It’s a nice balance between the needs and desires expressed by people during the many meetings we held over the last year,” she said.

Long-term, the port may add a fueling facility to the new docks.

“The logistics, cost and environmental permitting process are hurdles that we’ll have to overcome down the road,” Slinden added.

For port officials, it’s all about the economy.

Seitle said the first goal of the port’s comprehensive plan is to focus on sustainable economic development that responds to the needs, interests and improvement of local communities and residents.

“To me and my fellow commissioners, that means to do it in a way that preserves the character of South Whidbey and is respectful of its way of life,” Seitle said. “The marina upgrade does that while representing an investment in the South End with a positive return on that investment.”

Marina supporter Maureen Cooke expressed confidence the port’s plans will indeed be a shot in the arm for the economy.

“This will enable the community to benefit from additional money spent by more visitors and residents who will be able to find moorage, rent a small boat, visit a renowned dive site, plus patronize restaurants, grocery stores, art and antique shops and other businesses that will surely follow the money,” she said.

Not everyone is thrilled with the concept, or the cost. Others have complained the project would serve a select few; those with boats.

Long-time port critic Ron Lacour of Freeland wondered how the marina would affect those living outside Langley.

“It would be great to have a marina, but it should be a private enterprise, not done with public money,” he said.

“The port hasn’t demonstrated there is a significant benefit to us,” Lacour said.

Though some supporters have said the new marina would be vital if the ferry dock becomes unusable, Lacour discounted the disaster scenario. He said the marina would go down first if such a catastrophe occurred and, besides, folks could drive off the north end of Whidbey.

Lacour noted that Redmond-based Olympic Boat Centers, one of the largest full-service dealers of Bayliner, Maxum, Meridian and Trophy boats, filed for bankruptcy in July.

“The idea that there will be lots of boaters spending their money freely in Langley or anywhere else is starting to seem like a pipe dream,” he said. “And we’ll be struck with the bill for building and maintaining it.”

Whatever the outcome of the vote in November, the port plans to do at least a “mini-makeover” of the uplands when they formally take control of the property in January, using $450,000 in tax revenues.

“The port intends to place the 400-foot breakwater and two access ramps out from the current marina to provide extra docking, fix the boat launch ramp, improve parking, spruce up the park and conduct a good deal of deferred maintenance,” Field said.

Pat Scott of Freeland plans to vote for the marina levy.

“I don’t think in the long term we have much choice,” Scott said. “The state will mandate the removal of the present marina someday and that would be a shame. The new design has been scaled down to where it makes sense.”

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