Cultures collide in harborA proposed moorage plan angers local liveaboards.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:49 PM
"It is sometimes said that the hallmark of a good compromise is that everyone is equally unhappy.If so, judging from the protest at a Tuesday public hearing, the Bainbridge Harbor Commission's new anchoring plan for Eagle Harbor is a success.It was a sharp clash of values and philosophies. Liveaboards said they don't want regulation; shoreline residents said they don't want liveaboards. To liveaboard Tom Kirby, the clash is about a willingness to accommodate other lifestyles.We all have to live together, Kirby told commission members and the audience. You can't vote me off the island because you don't like the way my boat looks, any more than I can vote you off the island because I don't like the way your house looks.The thrust of the proposal is to move boats into a designated portion of the main harbor, roughly south of downtown Winslow. Over time, use of anchors would be phased out in favor of mooring balls.The plan, which would be phased in over a number of years, envisions as many as 125 mooring balls in the designated area - 20 percent for long-term liveaboard use, 30 percent for unoccupied boats and half for transient vessels.Although harbor dwellers disagree, the plan is seen as a necessary step to preserve the island's liveaboard community - threatened by prior policies of the state Department of Natural Resources, which owns the land under the harbor.Former Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher maintained that on-board living was not a permissible use of state property.Her successor, Doug Sutherland, has softened that stance and agreed to at least consider residential use of aquatic lands. DNR officials have, though, made it plain that cities wishing to permit such uses must insure that there is no environmental detriment.But to the liveaboards gathered Tuesday, any government regulation undermines the freedom that attracts them to water-borne living.Managing and regulating means that government is coming from a position of superiority, said liveaboard Dave Ullin. Civilization advances only when people act voluntarily. Drop the regulations in the name of civilization.But to Bill Nelson, freedom for one group takes away opportunities for others.It's unreasonable to take a harbor area away from the public at large, he said.And he questioned whether the liveaboard community was contributing its fair share.I don't see the liveaboard community stepping up to maintain the harbor, Nelson said, pointing to the problem of derelict vessels that have been hauled away at considerable expense to the city. The city is being asked to pick up the pieces, and that's not fair.That brought a sharp retort from liveaboard Mike Martin, who harbor master Tami Allen credits with initiating recent wreck-removal efforts.I spend time to maintain the harbor, and I want my payment now - if not in money, then in respect, Martin said.Martin also repeated a common theme among the liveaboards - that their lifestyle, embodying Thoreau's notions of voluntary simplicity, is a necessary response to the success-driven onshore world.We're trying to live simply because it's the only way out of the knot we've tied ourselves in as a society, he said.The harbor commission hopes to develop a plan that will satisfy DNR, prompting DNR to essentially lease the harbor to the city for management. The city has already said it wants to preserve the liveaboard community.But DNR's policy may be something of a moving target. The agency announced last week that it is beginning the process of developing rules for residential use of aquatic lands. Among other things, the rules will establish conditions, standards and rental rates.DNR will hold a number of informal public meetings around the state to gather public input before actually drafting any proposed rules. The closest local hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. on June 14 at the Olympic College student center in Bremerton.Support for the harbor commission came from those less directly involved - neither liveaboards nor onshore Eagle Harbor residents.The harbor plan will see further study by the commission before it is sent to the city council.To Karen Klein and Karen Kushner, on-boat living is an important component of affordable housing. And a number of speakers said the liveaboard community is an essential part of the island's maritime heritage.Even before the Europeans got here, we have a rich tradition in this area of living and sometimes dying on the water, Ted Spearman said. This community is an integral part of the identity of the island - not just to protect, but to cherish. "