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City fails to contract with DNR

The open-water marina will feature 16 slips, 12 of which are for transient use, while liveaboard vessels, like those pictured above, will be limited to a total of four slips.  - Brad Camp | File Photo
The open-water marina will feature 16 slips, 12 of which are for transient use, while liveaboard vessels, like those pictured above, will be limited to a total of four slips.
— image credit: Brad Camp | File Photo

After nearly a decade of attempting to find a legal alternative for the historic liveaboard community in Eagle Harbor, the City Council has decided against signing a lease with the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR said it will now have to act on the residents currently living in the harbor without permission.

The city failed Wednesday to come to a resolution after spending more than two hours of emotional discussion and several motions from council members to reach a lease agreement. There is no conclusive number for how many residents maintain a full-time residence in the harbor, but city councilors estimate it to be approximately 12 to 14 residents.

Liveaboards have lived in Eagle Harbor for more than a century, but the harbor is public land, and are legally trespassing, according to Bridget Moran, the deputy supervisor for DNR.

In order to accommodate the liveaboards and find a way to protect the historic community, the city has worked with DNR for years to find a way to keep the community while continuing to protect the harbor and those who use it.

The city approached DNR years ago to establish a legal way for the liveaboard community to stay. In the process, DNR was sued for not enforcing their trespass statute related specifically to those individuals in Eagle Harbor.

But the state agency argued that it was operating to resolve the situation and the court sided in favor of the DNR.

In trying to find creative solutions and abide by state laws, City Council members have faced numerous hurdles in trying to preserve the community and set up the open water marina.

The DNR had given the city a deadline of Oct. 1 to enter into a lease agreement. After city planners presented their final scenarios and costs for the proposed open water marina, the council concluded Wednesday night that it wouldn’t be possible.

Councilor Hilary Franz said there are a host of unworkable regulations in dealing with the costs and implementation of an open- water marina.

“We are at a place I had hoped we’d never be,” said Franz, a lawyer. “Part of the problem is the absurdity of the law. But part of the reason is we didn’t get it done, I truly believe, is because politics in our community have never looked uglier.”

What seemed to be the tipping point was both the costs that would be borne by the city, in terms of establishing the marina and maintaining transient buoys, as well as the costs the liveaboard residents would be required to pay.

“Disturbingly, it is the regulations that were set up to preserve our residential community that are the very regulations that in the end defeat our ability to actually preserve it,” said Franz.

In order to comply with DNR regulations the marina would have to create a marina made of 25 percent residents and 75 percent buoys for transients.

In order to accommodate all of the residents the city would be required to have more transient buoys than it could ever realistically fill. The buoy maintenance costs, and the one-time costs to build the infrastructure were more than the council was willing to pay.

Franz said the majority of residents wouldn’t be able to pay more than $100 a month to live on the water. The moorage was estimated to cost $27 per month, but sewage and garbage would put residents’ costs at more than $200 per month.

In addition, council members were concerned about how the city would manage the marina and the costs and expertise associated with that management.

Moran, who has worked with the city for the last 15 months, was in attendance at the meeting last night and said the decision by the council was a real shock.

“It’s not the direction we thought we were going. We’ve spent a tremendous amount of staff time. I personally have lost count of how many times I’ve been up there working with the city manager, council and residential community to find a creative solution to put this in place,” she said.

Moran said DNR is currently trying to evaluate their timeline of action, but they are legally bound to make sure no one is trespassing in the marina.

She said the agency will be forced to take action on the residents in the harbor who are currently trespassing.

“It’s unfortunate the city has chosen not to finish what they started with this because no where else would you just allow people to live and trespass,” she said. “And we had a real opportunity to find a legal alternative.”

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