Port of South Whidbey considers Clinton Beach Dock options

Byron Haley and Margaret Schwertner of the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol look at the Clinton Beach Dock. The firm is one three the Port of South Whidbey is considering to fix the dock

Ongoing maintenance bills and questions about whether the Clinton Beach Dock is still an appropriate fit for the Port of South Whidbey has district commissioners scratching their heads about the facility’s long-term future.

The dock, located alongside the ferry terminal, was damaged by winter storms and subsequently closed this spring. Port commissioners have bent their thoughts toward repairs, and began this week interviewing engineering firms to conduct the work. But this isn’t the first time rough weather has resulted in unexpected maintenance bills, and the ongoing expense and seeming lack of direct economic development benefit have fueled a new conversation among board members.

“Why do we have it? Why does it need to be fixed and what’s its real value to the port?” said Commissioner Ed Halloran during a Thursday interview with one of the three potential engineering firms under consideration.

These are the broader questions the port’s board would like to answer once it has an idea just how much repairs will cost — $10,000 is budgeted — as the dock’s role, need and usage, along with its interface with the ferry terminal, are somewhat unclear, particularly to the general public, according to Halloran.

Commissioner Curt Gordon echoed those comments, saying the hiring of an engineering firm to access the repairs is a good first step, but that the dock has other values such as being a vital asset for passenger loading ferries in times of disaster or loss of standard ferry service. Perhaps the state would be interested in a partnership, helping to pay some of the bills, he mused.

“I want to know all the opportunities,” Gordon said.

In a later interview he added that he didn’t envision a permanent closure; it was paid for with public funds that would require the port to provide something of equal value before it could shut down or sell the floats.

“I don’t see it going away,” Gordon said.

The dock was closed in early April largely for safety reasons, according to Angi Mozer, executive director for the port. Comprised of two main floats and oriented in an “L” formation, the joint that connects the long portion to the shorter was damaged by excessive wave action. The two floats currently rub against each other, making it a danger to unwary users. The threat to children was particularly worrisome.

Problems with the joint have been a headache for years, and past repairs simply haven’t held up. Securing bolts meant to limit the movement of the floats have failed so many times that the concrete is now “Swiss cheese,” Mozer said. Most recently, a temporary solution that utilized a rubber mat over the sections eventually worked its way between the two floats.

It’s unknown how an engineering firm will fix the issue and just how much work might be required, such as a major redesign. What is clear is that users aren’t happy about the closure, Mozer said. She estimated she’s received about 10 complaints.

“Most people are pretty mad,” she said.

The docks are utilized by boaters as place to tie up and access a restroom, and it was missed on the opening of shrimp season, Mozer said.

“It’s clear residents here value it greatly, but every year we spend thousands of dollars on Band-Aids,” she said.

Mozer added that the assessment will help determine whether another short-term fix is possible or if the port needs to look at another solution.