Outside mooring work begins at South Whidbey Harbor

A crane is barged next to South Whidbey Harbor at Langley for work on outside mooring.

Work on a project to make South Whidbey Harbor more inviting and accessible to large vessels kicked off this week with the arrival of a massive barge and crane.

Seattle-based Pacific Pile & Marine L.P., the Port of South Whidbey’s hired contractor, mobilized Tuesday and has since begun work on the “outside mooring project,” a plan to retrofit the northern edge of the marina outer floats to allow boats 100 feet and larger a place to tie up.

The contractor will also complete underwater repairs to the dock’s anchoring system, which were discovered by a diver in 2014 a few months after the initial installation.

The price tag for the entire project is about $177,000 — about $85,000 for the outside mooring work and about $92,000 for the repairs.

Port Commissioner Ed Halloran, who is also president of the board, said the project is significant in that it will lead to a financially healthier marina and lead to economic development in Langley. It’s not just more space being added, said Halloran, it’s larger space. That means Langley will now have a place for mega yachts, commercial fisherman, and perhaps most importantly, the big whale watching vessels from Seattle that will literally ferry in tourists by the boatload.

“Hopefully they’ll walk up the hill, have lunch and buy a bunch of goodies,” Halloran said.

Larger watching boats like the Victoria Clipper visited Langley in past years, but this just makes Langley even more of a destination, he said.

The modifications involve the installation of 15 big mooring cleats mounted on pedestals, according to Port Executive Director Angi Mozer.

“The project is relatively simple, as far as the surface work goes,” she said.

Underwater work, specifically the repairs, are more complicated. It will involve the replacement of at least one rope anchor line, and possibly others made of chain. Other connection components may be replaced as well depending on their condition and the material they are made of, Mozer said.

The port installed the floats in their current configuration at a cost of $1.7 million in 2014. Dubbed the marina expansion project, it added 330 feet of new dock space to the facility. Several months after the project was complete, divers discovered five of the 13 anchor lines were touching and that there were signs of chafe. Additional problems became evident late last year when an anchor “clump” weight fell free, causing a section of dock to drift out of position. Port authorities believe it may have been the result of improper materials used during construction, such as a metal that was not stainless steel, and that it has since rusted off.

Since the problems came to light, the port and the contractor, Friday Harbor-based Mike Carlson Enterprises, Inc., have been in an ongoing dispute over fault; port officials claim the work was done improperly while Carlson’s attorney’s have indicated the job was done as specified and was approved.

Port commissioners consider it a warranty matter, but with the ongoing stalemate the issue may end up in court. The board met in executive session last month and discussed the issue but did not take action.

Though the board took a vote last year to green light its attorneys to pursue Carlson to recover costs, Halloran said the board likely won’t make a final decision about legal action until after the completion of the current project, which is set to finish March 23. By then it should be crystal clear just what was installed and how.

“Until you get real rock solid evidence, your opinion is as valid as the next guy,” Halloran said.

And this time, the port is planning to have a survey done right after the project’s finish to make sure everything is just right.