The price boaters pay to keep their boats at the Oak Harbor Marina may be going up soon in anticipation of a major dredging project.
City council members chose a refinancing option to repay the the 2011 bond to dredge the marina that will include higher payments in the first five years to pay it off during a workshop meeting last Wednesday. They were presented with several options to identify funding sources to repay the bond, including increasing the dredge fee or using fund balance.
The marina is run as an enterprise fund, which means its expenses are supported by user fees and not general city money. The dredge fee tacked on to moorage bills was first enacted in 2010 after the marina’s most recent dredging the same year. It was originally set at $1.15 per foot per month but was lowered to $1.03 because only half of the marina was dredged.
The fee was controversial at the time, according to Harbormaster Chris Sublet, and 25-30 percent of tenants left. About half of them have come back.
Now the dredge fee could increase by about 30 cents each year for four years. In the first year, the fee would be $1.31 per foot of the boat’s or slip’s length, plus tax. In the second year, it would be $1.60, in the third year it would be $1.88 and in the fourth year it would be $2.16.
The fee increase would generate more funds each year and add $157,000 to the marina’s fund in the fourth year alone. The dredging fee currently generates $143,000 annually. The increase should be enough to support the debt service on a 20-year bond to pay for the future project, city Finance Director David Goldman told council members.
Sublet explained that Oak Harbor aims to set its prices at 80 percent of the averages for slips in the region. He said the average size of a boat at the Oak Harbor Marina is 32 feet. Uncovered moorage for a 32-foot boat is currently $276.90 per month. It will rise to $317.71 per month after the dredging fee increase.
The marina also raised moorage rates by 3 percent this past April and will raise rates again next April by the same amount.
Sublet said it will take about one and a half to two years to actually dredge the marina because of the lengthy permitting process after it’s approved by the council. He estimated dredging will cost between $4-$5 million.
Officials and boaters alike agree that the marina needs to be dredged soon. It was dredged to a negative 12-foot tide level in 2010, but the mud has built up to create increasingly shallow areas.
Sublet showed a map of the different depths in the marina at a zero tide and showed where some areas are just at 6 or 7 feet now. Although 7 feet of water may seem like plenty, Sublet said, many sailboats draw six feet below the waterline. It is not uncommon to see sailboats sitting on the mud.
Sublet said the dredging needs to happen soon to ensure the city has a marina in the future.
“If we don’t dredge, we’re not going to have a marina, plain and simple,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Oak Harbor City Council members voted to increase the dredge fee. Instead, council members voted on an option to refinance the bond used to dredge the Oak Harbor Marina in 2011. The options to pay off the bond include raising the dredge fee, using fund balance or a combination of both. The decision to change rates will come at a future meeting. We regret the error.