Franz, liveaboards not giving up

After DNR started the eviction process involving liveabord vessels deemed illegally afloat in Eagle Harbor, members of the community are preparing to push back one last time.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent letters on Nov. 12 to the registered owners of 58 vessels in Eagle Harbor to inform boat owners that they have until Dec. 15 to remove their unauthorized vessels from the harbor. If not, they will be subject to fines or “other lawful actions to remove [the] vessels.”

The boat owners were told they must move to a shoreline marina with space available or a location five miles away from the harbor and remove all buoys and associated anchorage.

Numerous community members have continued to find a way to keep the community alive after city councilors made the decision in September to abandon lease negotiations with DNR. Charlotte Rovelstad, a longtime liveaboard advocate, accompanied three liveaboards to Olympia on Oct. 19 to speak with DNR.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilor Hilary Franz said she may have found a way around the condemning regulations that made lease negotiations difficult, if not impossible. She said she plans to send a formal letter to DNR to communicate why the city didn’t enter into a lease and find a way to preserve the community.

Saving the liveaboards hinges on the open-water marina regulations. Marinas statewide must comply with a certain percentage of transient and residential buoy percentages. The ratio for Bainbridge is 25 percent residential and 75 percent transient, which is higher than most cities. In order to change that ratio the city has to modify the shoreline master plan, which isn’t scheduled for an update until 2011.

Adhering to the 25/75 percent in Eagle Harbor would mean if there were 20 buoys for liveaboards there would have to be 60 buoys for transient use. Such buoys are expensive and would clog up the harbor making navigation difficult and limiting harbor use.

“This is an unreasonable rule that results in significant unintended and unnecessary financial, navigational, and environmental impacts by requiring the installation of a high number of purposeless transient buoys,” said Franz.

Franz revisited the legislative history and wants to present a possibility around the regulation through creating an amendment to the city’s Shoreline Master Program, the Shoreline Substantial Development Conditional Use Permit or a change to the DNR regulations. All of the remedies would need DNR’s support and possibly the Department of Ecology.

“This was an opportunity we weren’t aware of that we frankly just missed in all the other work we were doing to find a way to preserve this community,” said Franz.

The DNR has repeatedly said it’s open to negotiation and would enter into a lease tomorrow if the city is willing, but the marina needs to follow state regulations. Kristin Swendall from DNR said the state was given $40,000 from the State Legislature to install buoys in Eagle Harbor to protect the liveaboard community.

“The city can still get into a lease tomorrow and allow up to eight of those residential users if they want to install those buoys, follow the percentage and use the existing linear moorage to create those slips,” said Swendall.

If nothing is done the liveaboards have less than 30 days to leave the harbor, which is a feat that will feel insurmountable for some.

“How can you give people 30 days to figure out where they are going to go when many have very few means to do so. It’s Thanksgiving next week and and the holidays are in a month,” said Rovelstad. “It’s pretty cruel.”

At Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, some members of the liveaboard community, including Dave Ullin and Jim Taylor, attended to show their support for the community.

They silently held up a banner in the back of the council chamber that read, “Save the liveaboard community,” but within a few moments Police Commander Sue Shultz ushered the men out of the chambers and into the hall where they were told they were not allowed to hold a banner bigger than the size of their body.

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer said in an e-mail that the governance manual provides that the presiding officer has the discretion to remove disruptive behavior.

“In a room filled with people, unfurling a 10-plus-foot banner creates both safety concerns and is disruptive. The citizens were offered an opportunity to hold their banner in the lobby or in exterior public areas in a way that did not affect ingress and egress. They were advised that they could hold signs that were not wider than shoulder width and not connected to stakes, within the chambers,” said Bauer.

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