Council hopes to rein in WSF

City Council wants environmental review power on yard upgrade.

Irked by the state’s assertion that multimillion dollar upgrades to the ferry maintenance yard would have no environmental impact, the city has moved to force further study.

The City Council voted unanimously this week to petition for “lead agency” status on the maintenance yard project, which would put any environmental review under the city’s control.

“It isn’t about the site or location of the yard or how the fences are to be designed,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said. “What’s before us right now are permits. It’s all about the environment and following the law.”

At issue is the impact of a planned $40 million upgrade at the facility on the north side of Eagle Harbor, slated to include new buildings and an expansive parking lot on the north side of the property.

Earlier this month, Washington State Ferries issued a “determination of non-significance,” a formal finding that the project would have no measureable impact on the environment.

The determination was issued by WSF in its capacity as “lead agency” under the State Environmental Policy Act, which allows public agencies to conduct environmental reviews of their own projects rather than being reviewed by other agencies.

Council members, though, say the project’s potential impacts should be reviewed by the city, not WSF itself.

A documented problem with industrial noise coming from the site is just one example of an impact that needs formal study, Vancil said.

Joy Goldenberg, WSF spokesperson, said her agency was “surprised and disappointed” by the city’s petition. The move could delay the maintenance yard work, she said.

“Really, it’s a main facility that’s so critical to our agency,” Goldenberg said. “It goes beyond the Bainbridge and Seattle route.”

If WSF contests the city’s request to assume lead agency status, the petition apparently will be reviewed by the state Department of Ecology.

With the city still responsible for issuing permits for the yard project, council members are also upset that WSF has sought an exemption from required shoreline development permits.

Vancil said the WSF has tried to dodge scrutiny by presenting the maintenance yard work as a series of small improvements rather than a single large project.

“Only when they walk into that (City Hall) building in Winlsow do they call it separate projects,” she said. “It’s almost a question of double-speak to achieve a certain end.”

The maintenance yard has been the subject of controversy for months, and several citizen groups have stepped up to fight the plan.

Some want to see WSF provide land for a community boat haul-out facility to replace the one displaced by the state when it first expanded the yard a decade ago. Others want to see the maintenance yard moved off the island entirely.

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