South Whidbey port district takes a gamble planning for FEMA grant

The race is on to obtain permits necessary to complete phase one of the Port of South Whidbey’s Langley Marina enhancement project during 2013.

The race is on to obtain permits necessary to complete phase one of the Port of South Whidbey’s Langley Marina enhancement project during 2013.

Trouble is, while the port commissioners are snorting at the gate they have little idea what the other horses are doing.

A smaller horse, the city of Langley, came through earlier this week with its building permit, said Ed Field, port manager. “There were eight conditions but nothing’s a deal breaker,” he told the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am appreciative. It’s one half of what I needed. The other half I ain’t got yet,” he added in his folksy manner. “It’s on somebody’s desk waiting to be written.”

He was alluding to the long-expected permit from the Corps of Army Engineers. Field said a representative from the office of Congressman Rick Larsen visited the marina Monday and would try to influence the Army Corps to hurry. He also suggested contacting Sen. Patty Murray.

“We need that permit,” Field said. He’s anxious to prepare bidding documents for the $1.75 million improvement project but is wary of proceeding without the Corps permit.

After much discussion, the commissioners decided to “gamble” by paying consulting engineer Reid-Middleton to begin preparing the bid documents before the Corps comes through with the anticipated permit. That will allow an extra 10 days so Fields can meet his desired goal of sending the project out to bid in late January, with a bid opening around Feb. 15.

Construction in the water can’t be done during the “fish window” that begins July 1, but Field said there’s plenty of work that can still be accomplished, including refurbishing a 400-foot breakwater and yanking out old pilings and decking.

An even darker horse in the permit race is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Field recounted a complex discussion with a FEMA official which left the commissioners shaking their heads and twisting their pens. FEMA could provide money to purchase a fire boat and sheriff’s boat, but might have stricter dock construction requirements.

The FEMA grant for the boats is estimated at $175,000, or 10 percent of the project cost. Field seemed ready to forget about it, but Commissioner Curt Gordon urged patience.

“Why would you not want to take that money?” he asked. “You can kind of see the logic; there’s a $175,000 swing. That’s a hell of a gamble, maybe we should take another look at that.”

Field said a FEMA decision may be known by the middle of January. In the end, the commissioners decided to begin work on a pair of bid documents, one with federal FEMA requirements and one without.

“Separate the boats as a separate project,” Gordon told Field. “If they don’t get funded we don’t build ‘em. But the fire district would really like that boat.” The sheriff has expressed less interest, he said.

It was estimated that $15,000 may be spent on the pair of bid documents before the Corp and FEMA decisions are known. If the permits are both received no money will be lost. But if FEMA falls through, much of that preliminary work will be for naught.

“It’s a $15,000 gamble till January,” Gordon said.

“We may be out $20,000,” estimated Commissioner Chris Jerome. “But it’s better than risking another year on that project.”

Commissioner Dennis Gregoire made the decision unanimous to work on parallel bid processes without knowing for sure if the FEMA grant will come through.