Island needs another boat yard, backers say

An old rule dredged from the 1970s has the Bainbridge Harbor Commission eyeing a state-owned Eagle Harbor property as a future public-use boat yard.

“It would enhance the viability of our community,” said Harbor Commissioner Rob Jacques at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “Boats could refuel and repair locally without having to go somewhere else. It would be attractive to downtown and add diversity to the waterfront.”

Rachel Smith, a longtime supporter of waterfront diversification, cited a 1974 ruling by the state Shoreline Hearings Board that reserves a one-acre parcel on the north side of Eagle Harbor for the exclusive use of a marina and/or a commercial boat facility. Washington State Ferries owns the one-acre site and uses it as an equipment storage area.

Smith urged commissioners to help return the site to public use before WSF redevelops the area.

“All these hundreds of boats around the island have to have service,” she said. “But they have to go to Port Townsend, Port Angeles or Edmonds for it.”

Smith banded with other maritime enthusiasts in the early 1970s who wanted to “keep Bainbridge salty.” They formed Bainbridge Island Concerned Citizens to oppose a waterfront condominium development by the Alexander Myers Company that they believed threatened the maritime character of Eagle Harbor.

While the developer successfully purchased the property, a Shoreline Hearings Board decision ordered the company to dedicate an area for maritime use accessible to the public. The 1974 requirement was binding to all future owners of the property.

In 1975, Russel Trask purchased the western portion of AMCO’s property and leased the public access corner – next to the footbridge that connects Waterfront Park to Harborview Drive – to boat yard operator Mark Julian.

WSF condemned Trask’s property in 1994 to make way for its growing repair yard, and Julian had to close his boat haul-out business and vacate the property.

Smith contends WSF is still legally bound to lease the property for uses dictated by the SHB. She said the city should require WSF to clear out and lease the property to a boat yard operator.

“The city needs to speak up and take care of this,” she said. “It’s important to protect places like this. We’re talking about whether boating will be accessible to everybody, or just to rich people.”

Peter Namtvedt Best, a city shorelines planner, said Smith’s presentation to the commission was the first he had heard of the one-acre property’s potential.

“My feeling is that the city was unaware the (requirement) existed,” he said, adding that the city would need to investigate the ruling’s validity.

Smith said she was spurred to bring the issue to the city’s attention after examining a recent WSF redevelopment map that designated the public access area as a future parking lot.

“Once that place is developed, it would be really costly” to return it to its intended use, she said.

Russ East, WSF’s director of terminal engineering, said the map Smith saw is not a final plan for the terminal’s redesign.

He said the WSF is open to a one-acre public boat yard somewhere on its property.

East said WSF would have to explore “homeland security” issues to ensure the ferry repair area’s safety would not be compromised by a boat yard. He also said a lessor would have to pay a “fair” price that he said has not yet been established.

“We would enter into discussions with boat yard operators,” East said. “But we don’t view this as a giveaway.”

He said WSF would also welcome a leasing agreement with the city to establish a public boat yard.

Harbor Commission members pledged to draft a letter asking for Mayor Darlene Kordonowy’s support in making the area accessible to the public. Commissioners will present their final draft at their next meeting, Oct. 5.

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