Harbor proposal still adrift

Commissioners are divided on proposed changes.

The Harbor Commission was divided this week over proposed changes to a draft Eagle Harbor Mooring and Anchoring Plan, changes that would use city funds to offset moorage fees, expand the boundary for liveaboard vessels and grandfather current vessels outside the proposed zone.

Commissioner Rob Jacques said at Tuesday’s meeting that he crafted the proposed amendments with a broad base of public comments in mind.

“The people at public meetings didn’t like our tone or tenor and didn’t see a reason” for the original draft, he said. “If we do the minimum amount of regulation we’ll be better off as a community. We should stick to basics.”

But four of the seven commissioners expressed discomfort with Jacques’ proposed amendments.

“I think we should quietly toss these in the wastebasket,” said Commissioner Frank Vibrans, who offered some of the strongest criticisms of the proposed changes.

Liveaboards have long enjoyed the freedom from fees and regulations while anchored in harbor waters under state jurisdiction.

The state now requires liveaboards and other boat owners to move vessels to regulated marinas, but has made provisions for local governments to designate “open water marinas.”

The City of Bainbridge Island is the first municipality in the state to attempt an open water marina with its proposed plan.

Harbormaster Tami Allen said the goal is to preserve the harbor’s long-established liveaboard community.

The commission’s initial draft for the open water marina would confine liveaboards and visiting vessels to a nine-acre zone between the outer harbor and Stetson Point, while charging monthly fees that could range from $40 to $500. The plan would also impact long-term, unoccupied boats that account for about half of the estimated 70 vessels anchored or moored in the harbor.

Vibrans disagreed with Jacques’ plan to expand the anchoring and mooring zone’s southern boundary by 50 feet.

He and other commissioners contend that the 70 vessels are clogging the harbor, making it difficult for other boats to navigate.

Vibrans said the draft’s boundary should hold firm.

“We can get them pretty well packed in there if we pack them bow to stern,” he said.

But many of the estimated 25 liveaboards have said the draft’s boundaries are too confining and will not accommodate all vessels affected by the plan.

“It’s only big enough for 16 boats,” said Commissioner Paul Svornich. “I don’t know what we’ll do with the other 40.”

Jaques proposal to allow existing vessels outside the proposed boundaries to remain at their present location also drew criticism from some commission members.

“Grandfathering sets a squatter mentality,” said commission chair Langley Gace. “Good fences make good neighbors. If there’s no boundaries people are always going to push the limit.”

Svornich believes the proposed grandfathering provisions would offer a compromise to liveaboards who have said they will defy plans that would confine them to the middle-harbor zone.

“This is an alternative to seizing boats and throwing people in jail,” he said.

Jacques’ other significant change, a provision to keep costs low for liveaboards and other open water marina users, drew the least amount of opposition from commissioners.

Jacques proposed that fees collected for the use of the moorage should not be required to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the open water marina. He advocates using the city’s general funds to offset a portion of the costs.

“We don’t want to price them out of the harbor,” he said.

Commissioners disagree on how much liveaboards will be charged after the plan is adopted.

Allen estimates costs could be as low as $40. Vibrans believes that number will be closer to $250. Jacques is confident fees won’t crack $190. Liveaboards often quote an estimate based on state Department of Natural Resources guidelines that puts the monthly rate near $500.

Most commissioners said Jacques’ amendments water the plan down. Commissioner Bob Selzler said the draft should contain clear guidelines before it is submitted to the City Council for final approval.

“It’s our duty to prepare a plan that takes a strong stand and is in compliance with the framework (of) what the plan should look like in five years,” he said. “We shouldn’t be pulling the meat off the bones. I don’t want to give the council something with gaping holes.”

To some commissioners, the proposed amendments seemed overly drawn from the desires of liveaboards. Commissioner Mike Rose said any plan will have detractors, and that the commission should work toward compromise.

“I think what we should do now is cool the fever,” Rose said. “We can’t massage everyone.”

Jacques agreed that not everyone will support his or any plan, especially boat owners that consider the inner harbor a part of the public trust and oppose most regulations on principle.

“We’re trying to get at least 70 percent saying they can live with the plan,” he said. “Then we’ll take it to the council.”

Selzler and Jacques plan to craft additional changes to the plan and discuss their recommendations at the commission’s Jan. 6 meeting.

The commission plans to have additional public meetings and drafts before submitting its final version to the council in March 2005.

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