Liveaboards face steeper moorage fees

It could cost $200 a month to live in the harbor, under a revised plan.

Eagle Harbor liveaboards will likely see no city assistance to defray new monthly fees that may start at $200 for a typical anchored vessel, according to the Harbor Commission’s final recommendations on the proposed Eagle Harbor Anchoring and Mooring Plan.

The commission finalized its recommendations Tuesday and will hammer out a detailed fee estimate before submitting the plan to the City Council later this month for final approval.

While many Bainbridge liveaboards oppose paying fees for a lifestyle that’s always been free, most are expected to sign on.

But at least three have vowed to sign no agreements and to fight the proposed regulations, calling the open waters of the harbor a part of the “public trust.”

“The city and DNR are committing fraud,” said Michael Mortenson, who has lived aboard his 25-foot vessel in the harbor for seven years. “That’s federal land, and there’s no way around it. I’m not signing on. It’s ridiculous and it’s going to court.”

Bainbridge Island is the first jurisdiction in the state to attempt an “open water marina” with the proposed plan, confining liveaboards and transient vessels to a middle harbor zone between the outer harbor and Stetson Point. The plan does not affect anchoring and mooring on public bedlands, private tidelands or private property where the owner has permission.

The Harbor Commission hopes to preserve the island’s liveaboard community while meeting new state rules requiring monthly fees and other regulations for anchor-out dwellers.

Some commissioners had earlier proposed crediting liveaboards who volunteer to help maintain Eagle Harbor and Waterfront Park.

Many of the estimated 18 current liveaboards have limited incomes and have always lived free from fees and rent while anchored in the harbor’s open waters.

But concerns over liability caused some commission members to back away from the idea.

“I’m neutral about it now,” said commission chair Rob Jacques, who proposed the so-called “sweat-equity” rule in January. “To start with, I thought of it as a quiet way to help boaters who were doing good things for us. But no good deed goes unpunished.”

Punishment, commission members said, could come in the form of lawsuits against the city if a boater was injured in the process of helping out.

A few re­si­dents ex­pressed opposition to the proposal because they said it singled out one community for subsidies. They suggested liveaboards struggling to meet new fees should seek financial help through conventional government assistance programs.

The commission’s new monthly fee estimates, released Tuesday, are nearly $100 higher than estimates released in late January. The increase is due to a higher rate now required by the state Department of Natural Resources, Jacques said.

The DNR will likely charge 29 cents a square foot to lease aquatic land under its jurisdiction. That factors out to a monthly $152.25 for a typical 35-foot vessel with fore and aft anchors. Including garbage disposal fees, registration and administrative costs, the owner of a vessel of this type would likely pay $200 a month.

Boats tied to city buoys or using a single anchor would be charged substantially more. Because the DNR does not consider house boats a “water-dependent” vessel, monthly charges could be 17 cents more per square foot.

The commission also suggested that the city bar any rafts or auxiliary vessels connected to boats. Some liveaboards use rafts as supplemental surfaces and additional boats as extra rooms for family members.

Some shoreline residents have complained that the rafts are an eyesore, and said items stored on them are not securely fastened.

“I’m concerned about these ever-expanding flotillas of junk,” commission member Bob Selzler agreed.

The rafts also would crowd the new anchoring and mooring area, other commission members said.

“Rafts and floats make it more difficult to get as many people as possible in the plan’s area,” Jacques said.

The commission did not suggest a cap on dinghies or kayaks that many boaters use to travel between their vessel and shore.

Commission members hope to put about 50 vessels in the moorage area. Along with transient and long-term, non-residence vessels, the commission proposes allowing 20 spots for liveaboards.

Jacques said he’s glad to be nearly done with the draft plan and for the commission to turn its attention to other matters, such as establishing a public-use boat yard on the harbor.

“It’s really nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

The commission will present its final draft of the plan, along with updated cost estimates, to the council March 30.

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