All those boats, no boat yard

The north corner of the maintenance yard, formerly the site of a boat haulout facility, is now a materials storage yard for the maintenance yard.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
The north corner of the maintenance yard, formerly the site of a boat haulout facility, is now a materials storage yard for the maintenance yard.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

WSF says it will make haul-out yard space available,

for the right price. [Second of three parts. Next Wednesday: Washington State Ferries’ plans for the Winslow Ferry terminal, specifically for non-motorized transportation.]

On an island whose harbors and marinas hold more than 1,500 registered boats, not having a place for residents to haul out and maintain vessels strikes longtime Bainbridge boater Bob Smith as profoundly “unnatural.”

“There’s no place to buy fuel, to haul out, to treat the worms on wood boats, to scrape off the barnacles, mussels and seaweed or to fix your propeller, strip paint or do all kinds of other tinkering you need to do,” Smith said. “These are just the natural things we should have.”

Instead, island boaters must travel to Seattle, Edmonds or to towns with less than half Bainbridge’s population, including Port Townsend and Port Orchard, for marine services.

Not only is a public boat yard a good fit for Bainbridge, it’s also a legal entitlement, according to Smith and many other boaters.

They point to a 1974 ruling by the state Shoreline Hearings Board, and a 1995 agreement struck between the city and Washington State Ferries, guaranteeing a public boat yard in Eagle Harbor.

“We should get two acres forever,” said Smith’s wife, Rachel, also a longtime champion of waterfront diversification.

While the Smiths have held tight to the 31-year-old state ruling dedicating two acres for boat yard use, the WSF prefers the later agreement with the city, in which it set aside a single acre.

But that agreement, signed 10 years ago, comes with a 20-year time limit.

“And time’s been ticking,” said Lynn Nordby, former city administrator who helped negotiate the “Memorandum of Agreement” between the city and WSF.

Despite the delay, WSF officials say they are committed to turning over a one-acre parcel at their Eagle Harbor ferry maintenance yard – just as soon as they set a lease price and find someone who can pay it.

“We fully intend to make that (property) available,” said Russ East, WSF director of terminal engineering, who estimates the one acre could be available by June, 2006. “We have no specific lease rate yet but we’re looking for a fair market rate.

“We want a viable business there and city has not yet identified a business. Until then, we won’t turn it over.”

But business dealings with the state ferry system are often rocky, said Eagledale resident Mark Julian.

And he should know. Julian ran a boat haul-out facility next to the ferry maintenance yard from 1986 until the late 1990s. His 2-acre yard, which used to service up to 25 vessels at one time, was condemned by the state to expand the ferry maintenance yard.

Julian then was allowed a month-to-month lease on a one-acre portion of the property. Leasing terms and pricing fouled negotiations with WSF, and Julian moved his operation to Port Townsend.

“It was terribly frustrating,” Julian said. “I hung on for a couple years, but finally gave up.”

The old boat yard area has since served as a ferry materials storage area.

Julian warns that there’s nothing “extremely binding” in the MOA between the city and the ferry system. He also believes the viability of any new boat yard would hinge largely on the lease rate.

“If they charge a lot, I’m not sure it could be economically viable,” he said, adding that his monthly rate to the land’s previous owner was no more than $6,000.

A new yard operator would likely have to invest about $1 million to build boat service amenities before business could commence.

Islander Paul Skeffington, who owned a boat yard in Point Roberts near Bellingham, agrees the lease rate is key.

“It has to be competitive, and that’s the bottom line,” he said. “There’s definitely a call for (a boat yard) on the island, but you still have to compete with various other places. And you have to pay skilled mechanics, electricians, and shipwrights, so the lease has to be low. There’s no question about it.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy believes the city can eke out a good deal for an operator thanks to one key word in the 1995 agreement: “viable.”

“The MOA says it has to be a ‘viable’ boat yard,” she said. “And that certainly opens negotiations.”

Kordonowy believes WSF may be required to set a rate that allows for a yard’s survival.

She and East say the earlier state ruling contains unresolved legal questions. Attorneys for the city and WSF see “some gray areas” hinting at improper proceedings leading up to the state ruling, Kordonowy said.

Rather than go to court over the 1974 ruling, Kordonowy favors “going about in a cooperative manner” with a possible compromise based on the MOA.

“We don’t want to burn any bridges,” she said, which could contribute to “prohibitive leases” for future boat yard operators.

Bob Smith and others have pledged to fight on despite the city’s reservations.

“It’s not possible to (block) the Shoreline Hearings Board,” he said. “It’s just not negotiable.”

* * * * *

Terminal issues

WSF will make a presentation to the City Council about their plans for the maintenance yard at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

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