Opinion

Editorial

"Boat debacle proves we’re in a new centuryOne-hundred-fifty workers sadly lost their jobs in Langley last week after the owner of a boat undergoing renovation took the job away from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.There is plenty of blame being thrown around this week at such easy targets as the mayor, the council, the building official, environmentalists, and this newspaper for reporting it all.But what really killed the Capital Queen project was the changing times and Nichols Brothers’ failure to adapt to the fact that society thinks very differently at the end of the 20th Century than it did during most of its decades.Throughout almost all of the 1900s, an enterprising boat building company could do whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted. When permission was required it was quickly obtained from supportive local officials. This is what Nichols Brothers attempted with the Capital Queen -- a job which appeared to exceed the scale of past projects done at the Langley dock.The mayor and city council quickly agreed to requested changes in the rules governing how the company could operate in Langley Harbor, where the Nichols dock sits amidst a residential area. In past years, that would have been the end of it. But things aren’t quite so simple today.Environmentally-oriented islanders did squawk about the scope of the work being done, as is their right, and the city’s building official had to listen -- regardless of the action taken by the mayor and the city council. He raised legitimate questions about the scope of the job and if it was allowed under an operating agreement between Nichols Brothers and the city. In addition, the city planning director had questions and called in the state Department of Ecology to take a look. All this interest from people with the power to impede the project made the boat’s owner nervous -- and understandably so. With a tight schedule to keep, the company opted to move to a bona fide boat yard in Portland where the work could be finished expeditiously without worries that local or state officials would interfere.The lesson at the dawn of a new century is that the old ways of doing business on Whidbey Island are dead. Any project not properly -- and tediously, and expensively -- processed and approved will be challenged on environmental grounds. And regardless of local community support, there will be powerful state and federal agencies that will listen to those challenges. This could be considered big government at its worst, but more accurately it reflects the growing environmental ethic among citizens in this county, in this state and in this nation.Nichols Brothers enjoys overwhelming support from the people of this community. But they can’t expect to keep doing business the old fashioned way. They tried it with the Capital Queen and disaster resulted for 150 working families."

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