Big wind sinks barges as Langley marina project starts

A surprise wind from the northwest Monday morning caused havoc for the crew beginning work on the Langley Marina expansion project and forced the cancellation of the last whale watching cruise of the year by Mystic Sea Tours.

A Neptune Marine employee scurries to secure a sunken work barge in Monday morning’s storm. Two small barges sank in the strong wind and work to refloat them started in heavy rain Tuesday morning. In the background is the new tug built by Nichols Brothers.

A surprise wind from the northwest Monday morning caused havoc for the crew beginning work on the Langley Marina expansion project and forced the cancellation of the last whale watching cruise of the year by Mystic Sea Tours.

At 7 a.m., workers with Neptune Marine were securing two small work boats to the 400-foot floating breakwater. Waves swamped both of the barge-like structures and only one end of one could be seen sticking out of the water. Plans were to refloat the boats using inflatable devices, work that commenced Tuesday morning in the pouring rain.

Meanwhile, workers Monday started to remove the planking from the skeletal remains of the old Langley Marina building owned for decades by the late Barney Hein.

Ed Field, operations manager for the Port of South Whidbey, owner of the marina, said materials were brought in over the weekend to begin work Monday. He didn’t expect the heavy weather to significantly delay the project.

Some of the more solid pilings that were the foundation for the old marina building will be left in the water, Field said. Removing the decking should allow sunlight to reach the water and encourage the growth of eelgrass, which is part of the project mitigation requirement, he said.

Monte Hughes, captain of the Mystic Sea that carried tourists to see gray whales daily for more than a month, was surprised by the morning’s high seas that sprayed over the floating breakwater just outside the protected harbor.

“We had to cancel, it was brutal,” Hughes said Tuesday morning. He was preparing to depart for Anacortes where cruises will continue through the San Juans.

Hughes didn’t want to cancel the sailing from Langley but the weather left him no choice, he said. “We had a group from Alki Tours in town and visitors from Germany, but there were 40 knot winds,” he said. “Yesterday was the last day of the season.” Jim Larsen / The Record | Remnants of the late Barney Hein’s Langley Marina building are removed Monday as part of the port’s expansion project. Without the decking blocking the sunlight, it is hoped eel grass will grow, mitigating changes made  elsewhere in Langley harbor.

No one was expecting such high seas on the east side of Whidbey Island. “NOAA was predicting 15,” Hughes said of the 15 knot projected wind speed. “Typical government. Yesterday was kind of a surprise, it was really blowing.”

The season didn’t end well, but overall it was “really good,” said Hughes, already planning the Mystic Sea’s return to Langley next year. With the new moorage facility, it will be easier to use, he said. “I’ll absolutely be back next year,” he said. He’s already talking to the port about staying longer, starting before April and continuing throughout May. “At least three months,” he said. Gray whales typically enter Puget Sound in February.

As for the marina expansion project, it’s finally under way after years of work and permit gathering.

Former Langley Mayor Neil Colburn stopped by to watch the proceedings. It was under his administration that Langley gave control of the marina and harbor area to the Port of South Whidbey.

“I’m really delighted,” Colburn said as he watched work on the Hein structure proceed. “I’ll take a pat on the back for this,” he chuckled. “I’m really glad Langley doesn’t own it any more.” The marina has been the main focus for the port, he said.

The newly enlarged marina will be finished and ready for the 2014 boating season. The existing marina accommodates about 38 boats, while the addition is expected to provide space for about half that number while allowing whale watching and other tourism boats to easily dock in Langley.

The project is expected to cost about $2.4 million, using $850,000 in bond sale proceeds, a $1.2 million grant from Island County’s economic development program, and $300,000 from the state Recreation and Conservation Office.

The port is planning further expansion in the future, but right now it’s time to celebrate. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at the marina.


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