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Harbor dwellers may see break in fees

The plan will go before the council early this year.

Eagle Harbor liveaboards should receive city subsidies to defray new mooring and anchoring fees, Harbor Commission members said this week.

Approving a series of amendments to the draft Eagle Harbor Mooring and Anchoring Plan, commissioners on Thursday also recommended that the city allow liveaboards to trade services for reduced moorage fees.

“Eagle Harbor is a community asset,” Commissioner Paul Svornich said. “Placing the entire burden of management costs solely on the harbor’s occupants is unfair. Everybody benefits from a well-managed harbor – not just the people who live there.”

City fees could include use of the city dock, sewage pump-out facilities, garbage service and parking.

Estimated monthly fees for liveaboards and other long-term vessels have ranged between $40 and $500. Commissioner Rob Jacques said Thursday he is confident fees will not exceed $190.

Jacques said he hopes the city will consider reducing some costs for liveaboards who frequently provide services to the city, including securing boats that have broken anchor or pumping out flooded vessels.

“The city would have to pay for those services,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with compensating people for their help by waiving some of the fees.”

Liveaboards have long avoided regulations and paying fees while anchored in harbor waters under state jurisdiction.

The state now requires the harbor’s estimated 25 liveaboards and other boaters to move to regulated moorage, but has made provisions for local governments to designate “open water marinas.”

The city is the first municipality in the state to attempt an open water marina with its proposed plan.

The plan would confine liveaboards and visiting vessels to a nine-acre zone between the outer harbor and Stetson Point. The plan would also affect long-term, unoccupied boats that account for about half of the estimated 70 vessels at anchor in the harbor.

Proponents hope the plan will help preserve a way of life and maintain a source of low-cost housing for island residents.

In early December, Jacques recommended a series of changes to the draft plan that he hoped better reflected the public’s desires for the open water marina. Thursday’s action put many of those recommendations to a vote.

Jacques dropped his earlier support for allowing some long-time harbor liveaboards to remain in their current location through a “grandfathering” provision, after the state Department of Natural Resources said the city doesn’t have the authority to craft such a measure.

Commissioners now plan to work with the DNR to allow a grace period allowing liveaboards time to move onto the open water marina zone.

“DNR might allow up to a year, but everybody’s going to have to move,” Jacques said. “The DNR wants people off the land that’s not leased” by the city.

Jacques announced his intention to meet personally with each liveaboard to explain the new rules and gather feedback. He doubts all will support or even adhere to the plan, but hopes to make them “feel like they’ve been heard.”

“I’d sleep better at night knowing I talked to people, explained why this is happening and gave them a chance to vent,” he said.

Svornich commended Jacques’ idea, but doubted its effectiveness.

“Communication is always good and you’re a very brave man,” he said. “But the liveaboard community has a different consciousness, very different from everyone’s in this room. Their world is way more real (and not connected) to what we do in this room with all this paper stuff.

“I mean, many don’t recognize state law has any authority or jurisdiction over their lifestyle.”

Liveaboard Dave Ullin said face-to-face discussions should have happened 25 years ago.

“This should have happened back at the source, when (shoreline) residents were lobbying to eliminate our lifestyle,” he said. “Since then, it’s been like a ratchet, cinching down tighter, taking more freedoms away.”

Ullin also said he’d now prefer discussions with the DNR.

“The commission has good intentions as middle men, but the DNR is now the source and you’re just trying to please them,” he said.

Ullin and a handful of other liveaboards have pledged not to sign on to the mooring and anchoring agreement, arguing that the harbor’s inner waters are in the public trust and not subject to city or state regulation.

Ben Sias, the Bainbridge Police Department’s marine officer, recommended a “low key approach” toward enforcing the regulations.

“It’s going to be tough to enforce,” he said. “Some don’t like government and have guns.”

Commissioners plans to issue a new draft of the plan in the coming weeks. More public comment will be gathered before the commission submits their final proposal to the City Council.

“This is not becoming law tonight,” said Commissioner Langley Gace. “There’s many more stop checks along the way.”

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