Port scales back marina project plans

FREELAND — Commissioners for the Port of South Whidbey wrestled with the results of their failure to secure an $8.2 million bond from voters Wednesday.

The bond measure was defeated Nov. 4 when 68 percent of South End voters — 6,955 to 3,293 — said no to the port project.

Local boater Dave Powers told commissioners that they had done the best they could to get the marina funded but now was the time to make lemonade out of lemons and take advantage of the current financial crisis.

Powers said that he and his fellow boaters are also suffering the slings and arrows of high fuel prices and a lower economic climate.

“The price of fuel has skyrocketed,” Powers said. “You need to promote Langley as a destination for boaters in Puget Sound searching for a fun place to visit at a reasonable cost.”

He also said the port should consider adding space to haul out boats on trailers, provide long-term dry storage racks and invest in buoys serviced by water taxis.

“And when you try again to get funding, broaden the project and beneficiaries to include areas beyond the city of Langley,” he said.

The planned Langley marina make-over has been put on hold as the port moves forward with their Jan. 1 takeover of the small boat harbor.

“We need to move ahead and discuss the gory details of the property transfer from the city to us,” port manager Ed Field told commissioners.

Anticipating a successful appeal for a tax hike, the port purchased a 400-foot breakwater from Bremerton one year ago. It was to be the anchor for a series of connecting docks, gangways and piers to facilitate folks getting from their boats to the uplands area and the city beyond.

Port commissioners Rolf Seitle and Lynae Slinden disagreed about the placement of the breakwater, which is currently secured to the existing marina palisade.

Seitle wants the breakwater firmly anchored in its final position to await the day when funding can make the marina upgrade a reality. This would require a 150-foot connecting pier that could be both unprotected from the weather and expensive.

Slinden, however, hopes to place the breakwater closer to dry land and add a cheaper floating dock that, with the addition of mooring buoys, will allow small cruise vessels and visiting boats to make Langley a destination stop.

“We can put the breakwater in a semi-permanent spot,” she said. “There’s no way of telling when we can proceed with the full marina build-out.”

The port staff is examining a variety of grants and other funding opportunities to pay for any engineering changes that will be required, regardless which option is chosen. Commissioners agreed to wait until their next regular meeting to make a decision.

In the meantime, commissioners recommitted themselves to a clean-up at the marina, including an update to Phil Simon Park, expanded parking, improved landscaping, better surfacing for cars and trailers and a new boat-launch ramp.

“Improving the uplands is something we told people we’d do during the recent campaign, and that hasn’t changed,” Slinden said.

Commissioners were then introduced to harbormaster Rick Brewer, who assumed his new duties last week.

To answer concerns from Langley officials over the lack of a port presence at the harbor, Field said he had arranged a lease for a semi-detached room, with bath and separate driveway, at Drake’s Landing at the bottom of Wharf Street to serve as the port’s on-site office.

When they heard the lease would be $1,000 per month, commissioners asked Field to put the brakes on the deal.

“I like the Drake sisters, but their place is never filled even in summer; that cost is too high,” Seitle said. Slinden said she agreed the lease was a bit steep.

But Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert noted the property is on the waterfront, in Langley, so the price seemed reasonable to him.

The port will try to renegotiate the lease or find something cheaper.

The next Port of South Whidbey meeting is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10 at the Freeland Library.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@south

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