Uncharted waters for liveaboards

Liveaboards and community advocates are wading through the legalities of the open water moorage and anchorage marina to help the 15 applicants cautiously enter into uncharted waters.

“For many of these guys this is a leap of faith,” said Hilary Franz, the city councilor who has served as the liveaboard community’s main advocate during the last year. “It’s a hefty legal contract that we have to ask them to sign, and that takes some faith.”

Interested marina tenants spent several hours with Franz and Harbormaster Tami Allen to answer questions and understand the lengthy contract that authorizes the lease between the City of Bainbridge Island and the Department of Natural Resources for the marina to preserve the liveaboard community.

The marina won’t make room for any of the current houseboats in Eagle Harbor, including Wicca, the 70-year-old, brown-shingled houseboat that has become an icon of the community.

By early next week, the city will know the number of applications it will accept from the 15 applicants for a year-long lease with the city. Many of the specifics, however, remain elusive.

“DNR is pushing them with this deadline and forcing them to rush through this process, which frankly has left even essentials like the criteria that decides which applications will be accepted as an unknown,” said Charlotte Rovelstad, a longtime liveaboard advocate.

The journey to create the marina has been a dramatic roller coaster. Now as the deadlines approach, DNR wants tenants by mid-January, and it has become a race to make sure liveaboards understand the contract and how to comply.

Liveaboards like Ted Stoughton and Dave Ullin had many suggestions and questions for Allen and Franz at a meeting last week, but most of their responses were limited by what the complicated contract stipulates.

Franz, a lawyer herself, translated back and forth from her legal dialect to make sense of the document.

“The general feeling for some is probably frustration with change and the con with change and the contractual nature of leases and sub-leases, which is something many are not used to, or disfavor given their interest and desire in a simpler, freer lifestyle,” said Franz.

“Their is concern about making sure that the marina is still a place to live that provides them with privacy and respect. For others there is a sense of understanding that the city is trying very hard to preserve the community as best as possible given the state’s regulations and laws.”

Rovelstad said some of the requirements in the contract seem to treat the liveaboards like second-class citizens. For example, tenants will have to pump-out their sewage under the supervision of the harbormaster at designated hours during the week, instead of being trusted to remove sewage on their own time.

The city is abdicating any responsibility if city-owned infrastructure for the marina fails, yet tenants aren’t allowed to use their own buoys or anchorage tools, according to Rovelstad. Some of the details seem vague to Rovelstad, who reviewed the contract with an attorney for clarification.

“A lot of things in this contract are requirements you don’t see in other places; they are holding these guys to a different standard,” she said.

At the meeting, liveaboards listened attentively to what would be required of them. Many offered suggestions and advice to each other on how to bring boats into compliance.

“I’ll make this work,” said Stoughton at last week’s meeting. “It’s hard because a lot of these details seem unresolved and its hard to know what you are paying for or how to proceed.”

Franz continues to dedicate hours pouring over the documents, editing and working with the liveaboards and city staff to hammer out the details.

Liveaboards will move into the marina once they have signed the subleases with the city. None of the permanent infrastructure can be installed until the permitting process is complete and approved, according to Franz.

As for the houseboats, their fate appears doomed. Rovelstad hoped someone from the community might be willing to volunteer to house Wicca, especially after the “KCTS Connects” special featured the liveaboard community on Channel 9 last week. But she hasn’t heard from any interested parties.

The cost to live on a houseboat in the marina is estimated at about $31,000 per year because they are not considered to be “water-dependent,” according to DNR. That lease rate is a far jump from the approximate $60 per month for linear moorage. Five of the 15 applicants have applied for the linear moorage, while the remaining 10 requested a buoy that will cost approximately $170 a month.

Councilor Bill Knobloch expressed his concern at Wednesday’s council meeting that the liveaboards would be required to follow all regulations required of other boaters in the Sound, especially related to the safety of the boats.

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer assured Knobloch that there is an insurance requirement and the city will ensure boats are not creating a liability.

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