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Is there room for a new boatyard?
"If the price is right, a small-boat repair facility may come back to Eagle Harbor on a corner of what is presently the Washington State Ferry repair yard.But if that happens, small boats will coexist with the huge ferries, not supplant them. Dashing the hopes of some islanders who hoped the repair yard might relocate, a spokesman for the WSF told the Review last week that Eagle Harbor will remain the hub of ferry repair and maintenance operations.Every year there are more boats in Eagle Harbor, and a haul-out facility is clearly needed, said Mayor Dwight Sutton. Right now, people are sending divers over the side to scrape and repaint boat hulls. But that paint isn't good for the environment.The former haul-out facility was a victim of WSF expansion. In 1994, the ferry system condemned the Trask property and pier east of Waterfront Park, then home to a bulkhead business and marine scrapyard as well as the Eagle Harbor Boat Yard haulout business.After protracted negotiations, the state paid $4.1 million for the property in the condemnation settlement in 1995. The state then filled an acre of what had been tidelands for more working space.During the process of getting a city building permit for the expanded facility, WSF made a commitment to accommodate a private boatyard operation in the future But the state failed to come to terms with the Eagle Harbor Boat Yard business at that time.Mark Julian, who operated the old haul-out facility, said this week that he would be more than happy to come back to Eagle Harbor given the chance.I would always look at leasing space there, Julian said. Julian continues to operate an island-based boat-repair business, but has to haul boats to Port Townsend for out-of-water servicing.Boatyard plan lost to costThe hangup may be financial. If a state agency leases property to a private business, it is required to charge an amount of rent basically equal to what a private landlord would require as a fair return on the amount paid to buy the property. So having paid top dollar for valuable Eagle Harbor property, the WSF would have to charge a high rent.When the WSF gave some ballpark figures on rent in the past, nobody on the island could make an operation pencil out, Sutton said.Julian said he did not receive any financial information, and has not been in touch with the city recently. But he agreed that if a renter had to pay enough to let the state recoup its total costs, the operation probably wouldn't work.The problem, Julian said, is that the state spent substantial money cleaning up the property it condemned. The shoreline and tidelands were fouled by paint and other contaminants that dated back to shipyard operations in World War II.Those contaminants were capped with the acre of new fill and asphalt that can be seen from the pedestrian trail connecting Waterfront Park and Olympic Drive.If the lessee would have to repay the state for the cleanup costs, then it probably isn't a realistic endeavor, Julian said.Council inquiriesThe city council, though, wonders if the problem isn't just that the initial plan was too vague. Council members have asked the WSF to identify a specific spot where a boat haul-out facility could be located, put together a specific lease proposal, then circulate it to the boating community to see whether anyone bites.Another possibility being explored is for the state to lease the land to the city, presumably at a below-market rate, then for the city to lease the land to a private operator.But before any of those plans can go forward, the city council will have to amend the zoning ordinance to make it clear that ferry-repair operations are permitted at the yard.When the city council redrafted the zoning ordinance on water-dependent uses, the ferry system was not mentioned, Sutton said. To make room for a boatyard, the ferry yard is going to have to move a welding shop. They need comfort they can get a permit for the relocated facility, he said.An amendment to include ferry maintenance as a permitted use should pass the city council in the next month or so, Sutton said, which would move the whole matter forward.But once again, ferry-system funding could be a stumbling block. The repeal of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax - first by the voters when they passed Initiative 695, then by the Legislature - blew a $100 million annual hole in the WSF's capital budget. I suspect we're in a holding pattern until the Legislature replaces those funds, if in fact it does so, Sutton said.Ferry yard is here to stayWhether a haul-out facility comes to fruition or not, it appears that ferry-repair operations will continue to be the dominant use of Eagle Harbor.In early 1999, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council had asked the WSF to explore the possibility of moving its maintenance operations to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, which has excess capacity as a result of military downsizing.Sutton for one saw that as a win-win situation: the maintenance jobs would stay in Kitsap County and Bainbridge would get a prime piece of waterfront property for either public or private development.Initially, the ferry system was agreeable. It acknowledged that the Eagle Harbor facility cannot accommodate more boats than presently use it, which limits the ferry system's ability to expand. And the WSF undertook an assessment of whether it could move the repair yard.But WSF now says it does not believe total relocation of the repair yard is feasible.There are no indications to us that it is going to be feasible to transport the entire repair business, WSF director Terry McCarthy said.What he did offer, though, was that repair-facility expansion may not occur here.Over the long term, we're likely to end up with more vessels, McCarthy said, particularly if we get into the passenger-only business. We might be able to do those repairs at PSNS.In fact, when money becomes available, WSF would like to rebuild the existing Eagle Harbor facility.The facility predates World War II, McCarthy said. There have been some cosmetic changes since, but inside, it's no more functional than it was then.We have a footprint of significant size, and would like to rebuild within that framework.A rebuild is contained in the six-year enhanced WSF budget recently approved by the state Transportation Commission - what WSF spokesperson Pat Patterson called our Christmas in August budget. With a major political battle shaping up over funding of the entire transportation system - not simply the ferry system - and new citizen initiatives in the works, nobody expects any significant work on the Eagle Harbor facility any time soon.One thing that won't change, though, are the geographical advantages that Eagle Harbor offers to the WSF.It is very hard to find a sheltered area on a relatively central point of the system, McCarthy said. We will not abandon Eagle Harbor. "