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South Whidbey port draws criticism over marina project

After his failed bid for port commissioner last November, Ed Jenkins has been flooding Port of South Whidbey officials with unsolicited business advice, ranging from how to run the Langley Marina to suggestions on property purchases.

Jenkins, a Clinton-based community activist, lobbied at last week’s regular port meeting that commissioners should verify the marina will make money or they should abandon the project.

Instead, he told the port commissioners, they should buy Langley’s long-closed Dog House, or a property on Highway 525 in Clinton and develop it into a business park.

During the public comment period at the port’s last meeting, Jenkins read a four-page speech that was highly critical of Langley officials and the port’s takeover of the city marina.

“Telling the public the marina is making money is simply not true,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ critical position toward the marina project isn’t new. It was brought up during his unsuccessful run for port commissioner during last year’s November election, a race in which Jenkins finished third in a field of four.

Last week, Jenkins again called for a business plan and an “exit strategy” in case the marina does not generate money. He also asked that a citizens’ committee be established to oversee the port’s work, and that the public be given a chance to say how they want the port to proceed. In the meantime, Jenkins said the port should not spend another dime on the marina.

“I have repeatedly called for the creation of a proper business plan, pro forma cash flow projections and an exit strategy before any more time and money is spent on the marina,” Jenkins said.

The port took ownership of the property last year after lengthy negotiations with the marina’s previous owner, the city of Langley. With it, the port gained the responsibility of upkeep and expansion of the aging small-boat harbor.

Jenkins is well-known for his activist role on the South End.

In 2008, he was among the group that fought to start a public power company on the island. But during the campaign, Jenkins split with the group promoting the ballot measure over internal differences after he accused a fellow supporter of shady dealings with a state association that represents public utility districts.

Jenkins suggested that the marina should be run by a private party.

“A developer should run it,” Jenkins said. “The port has no business in it.”

Later in the meeting, port officials said Jenkin’s idea was not feasible, given the restrictions on the property that have existed since it was acquired for public use.

“Our hands are tied to a certain degree,” said Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert.

Jenkins also said local businesses are suffering, and he continued his attacks on the Langley Chamber of Commerce that began weeks ago amid a dispute between Jenkins and Langley officials over a sign to draw tourists to the city.

“The reality is that the downtown is in a free fall of declining business and more businesses closing in the next few months,” Jenkins said. “The Langley Chamber of Commerce is not respected by the businesses. In fact, they have a separate merchant group that is trying to stimulate business ,and not very successfully, it seems.”

He added that the city’s leadership also wasn’t helpful to business.

“The current administration is anti-tourism and destructive toward downtown businesses,” he said.

The comments drew a harsh rebuke from Port Commissioner Chris Jerome, who represents the Langley district.

“I fundamentally disagree with your characterization of Langley,” Jerome said, adding that he has spent much time with business owners and groups in town who are focused on improving the business climate.

After his lengthy presentation, Jenkins found few supporters in the room.

“I don’t agree with a thing that you just said,” commented Tony Puma, co-owner of the Boatyard Inn. “Continue what you’re doing,” he encouraged the port.

Freeland businesswoman Leanne Finlay also disagreed.

“I don’t think it necessarily has to pay for itself,” she said of the marina. Many local business owners are proponents of the project because they hope boaters will bring traffic to their businesses.

Jenkins also found few fans among port officials.

“Even though it might be something that doesn’t make money, it’s something that we have always promised to do,” Tapert said.

Port Commissioner Curt Gordon pointed out that the two new members of the board were still learning the details of the marina acquisition, and are doing a thorough job reviewing the deal.

“We were handed the harbor. It’s too early and, quite frankly, a waste of our time,” Gordon added.

Port commissioners also passed on Jenkins’ proposal for the port to buy the Dog House Tavern for office space, as well as the idea to purchase property in Clinton on Highway 525 and establish a business park.

Commissioners pointed out that the land is not properly zoned for commercial use, and that a rezoning effort had failed in the past.

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