Finally ready to launch: Possession Beach boat ramp redesign to begin in November

Clinton residents Jeff and Erin Hanson prepare to launch from Possession Beach Waterfront Park on Thursday. The boat ramp and floats will be replaced this November with a better design. As it is now

After years of dreaming and planning about a better boat launch at Possession Beach Waterfront Park, the project is finally about to become a reality.

The Port of South Whidbey recently hired a construction manager, and officials say work on the new ramp and docks will likely begin within two months.

“I’d say the first week of November is a safe bet,” said Jan-Marc Jouas, interim executive director for the port.

Regular users of the popular launch are looking forward to the improvements.

“It would be nice,” said Jeff Hanson, a Clinton resident who was setting out to drop crab pots late Thursday afternoon with his wife, Erin Hanson.

The couple use the facility on a weekly basis during crab and fishing season. It’s close to home and they never have trouble finding parking like they do at boat launches on the South End. Fixing up the floats and the ramp will make it even better, they said.

The ramp and its floats are one of the port district’s most-used launches, said Jouas, but the facility’s design has long been a source of headache. The current there often runs  north, right into the floats. They act as an unintended net, trapping both natural debris and flotsam. The ramp itself has also “sunk below the level of the beach” and is often covered with sand and seaweed.

“As it is now, it’s kind of like a sinkhole — everything gets trapped on the ramp,” Jouas said.

The project calls for a total redesign of the launch. The ramp will be raised so it’s above the beach and less likely to get covered, and the floats and pilings moved to the south side of the ramp. That way it will deflect, rather than trap, anything floating in the water.

The price tag for the fix is approximately $580,000 — about $480,000 for construction and about $100,000 for design and permitting work. The vast majority is covered by two grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. They will pick up about 75 percent of the total bill, with the remaining 25 percent — $145,000 — coming from the port’s general fund.

While many users say the improvements are a welcome addition, other area residents and park regulars say it’s not just the dock that needs work. General maintenance of the entire facility is severely lacking, said John Norris, who lives nearby.

“All the picnic tables are gross, the grass is two feet high. The dumpster is overflowing — it’s just a mess down there,” Norris said.

“It looks like an abandoned park,” he added.

Norris recently sent a sternly-worded letter to the port about the condition of the park, saying its appearance was an embarrassment to the community and requesting district officials take swift action.

Jouas confirmed the port has received correspondence about the condition of the park, and that he’d also personally fielded at least one angry call from a user. The district got the message loud and clear, he said, and is working to address the problems.

A site visit Thursday showed signs of recent maintenance: the grass was mowed, garbage cans were empty, picnic tables cleared, etc. Norris acknowledged that the place did look better, but that it still needed lots of work. He said the bathrooms were “yuck,” that they need both regular cleaning and to be painted; the park is in desperate need of landscaping, especially around the caretaker’s house; wooden siding around garbage cans is falling apart, etc.

“This is, like, marina cleanup 101,” Norris said.

Jouas declined to go into specifics about why the facility’s maintenance had been so poor, but port documents suggest the district is ending its relationship with the park’s current caretaker. An executive director’s report to the commissioners said a 60-day termination of lease was presented and mailed to the caretaker, who is required to vacate the house by the end of the month. The district has also posted a want ad for a new caretaker, the report says.

Maintenance for the park is the responsibility of the caretaker, who lives in a house on the property.

According to Jouas, additional resources have also been diverted to the park. Two district employees go there at least four days a week to handle maintenance, he said, and they’ve been working hard to clean it up. He added that while he doesn’t believe the parks condition was as bad as some alleged, saying “It wasn’t pristine but it wasn’t like Katrina hit either,” it was clear maintenance was lacking and work needed to be done.

“We recognize we could have done a better job, and we’re not denying that,” Jouas said.

“If people give us a couple of months, I think they’ll see a marked improvement at Possession.”