Sides can’t agree on location of haul-out facility

Citizens, WSF are at odds over siting of future boat yard on Eagle Harbor.

With a bright yellow highlighter in hand, Rachel Smith cut out a swath of the Washington State Ferries maintenance yard. Her figure enveloped parking spaces, storage areas and one small corner, marked in black ink, that ferry representatives had offered moments earlier as their preference for a future public boat yard.

The blown-up map of Eagle Harbor on display at Tuesday’s Harbor Commission meeting illustrated two sharply differing views, in black and yellow, of where to site a facility desired by many local boaters.

“We shouldn’t get just one acre for 20 years – we should get two acres forever,” said Smith, a longtime supporter of waterfront diversification.

Smith contends that a two-acre parcel at the mouth of the creek east of Waterfront Park is reserved for the exclusive use of a marina or a commercial boat facility, according to a 1974 ruling by the state Shoreline Hearings Board,

WSF’s black lines reflect the tenets of a later agreement signed with the city in the mid-1990s that designates a one-acre public boat yard for 20 years.

“I’m here to tell you, we are going to honor that agreement,” said Russ East, WSF director of terminal engineering.

Some boaters welcomed WSF’s commitment to turn over an area that once serviced recreational vessels. WSF condemned the property in 1994 to make way for the growing ferry repair yard.

East said WSF will work with the city and prospective yard operators interested in leasing a one-acre parcel. The lease, he said, would be at a “fair-market rate that works in the best interest of WSF.”

Architect Bill Isley presented a plan to locate the yard on the harbor’s south shore, bordering Darrell McNabb’s marina next to Taylor Avenue. Contracted by the marina to draft the proposal, Isley’s plan would require the cooperation of both the city and WSF.

East said WSF would consider such a proposal “if the community thinks it’s a viable alternative,” he said.

WSF plans to restructure and redevelop portions of its maintenance yard and build a new storehouse bordering the trail on the property’s north end. The construction would likely push their proposed one-acre public boat yard to the mouth of the creek with an access road at the creek’s edge.

East said security concerns would also limit some uses, especially shared facilities between the two yards.

No one has approached WSF to lease a boat yard area, East said, but Paul Skeffington, a former boat yard owner in Point Roberts, said an affordable lease rate is key to establishing a long-lasting, economically viable facility.

Several commissioners expressed support for a boat yard on the harbor that would allow boaters to repair vessels on land. Others favored a facility that could provide fuel for boats and offload freight.

Commissioner Bob Selzler advocated a yard with emergency responders.

“We’ve always had a problem with what to do with vessels taking in water or needing to come out of the harbor rapidly,” he said.

Whatever commissioners dream up, Smith holds firm that WSF must conform to the 26-year-old requirement she says is binding to all owners of the property. City and state attorneys are currently pondering the issue with a decision expected in the coming months.

The commission will discuss the proposed boat yard again at its next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 14 at City Hall. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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