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Group forms to oust ferry work facility

A worker uses equipment in the ferry maintenance yard on Eagle Harbor. Washington State Ferries plans to modernize the facility, which has been the site of marine repair activities for decades. - Review file photo
A worker uses equipment in the ferry maintenance yard on Eagle Harbor. Washington State Ferries plans to modernize the facility, which has been the site of marine repair activities for decades.
— image credit: Review file photo

But a presentation by ‘ROW’ fails to sway harbor commissioners.

A newly formed group advocating removal of the ferry maintenance yard from island shores did not get the response it hoped for from the city Harbor Commission Tuesday.

The nonprofit Reclaim Our Waterfront citizen group presented its argument to the commission hoping to garner support for relocating the ferry facility, which they consider counter to their vision for greater public access, commercial development and small-scale maritime uses on Eagle Harbor.

“The ferry maintenance facility takes up a massive amount of land,” said ROW member John Doerschuk, a former City Council candidate who advocated the yard’s removal during his campaign last year. “It’s surrounded by park, residences, a marina. We don’t think it’s a compatible use.”

Doerschuk and other ROW members, including former council candidate Doug Smith, asked commissioners to join their campaign, which includes a growing petition and letters to the mayor and state lawmakers.

But many commissioners expressed support for the continued presence in Eagle Harbor of Washington State Ferries’ key maintenance facility.

Speaking to Doerschuk and Smith, commission member Frank Vibrans said residents have long squabbled over the yard’s location, but the harbor has proved itself vital for a well-functioning ferry system.

“This idea has been kicking around for a long time, longer than both of you have lived on the island,” the former Winslow mayor said. “But I don’t support it. This harbor is one of the most protected in the sound, as far as weather and as a place to park the boats and work on them.”

Vibrans said WSF vacating the yard, which it has owned for over 50 years, is unlikely and could be too costly.

“They’ve got the property and they’ve got a job to do there,” Vibrans said. “This $40 million (in upgrades) is a drop in the bucket compared to what will be lost if they try to move somewhere else.”

Commission chair Rob Jacques said the yard is an important part of the harbor’s maritime and industrial heritage.

“I like the maintenance yard and I like the idea of an industrial, working waterfront on Eagle Harbor,” he said.

Jacques also believes the yard’s proximity to the Winlsow terminal and its location in the middle of the ferry system’s busiest routes make good economic sense.

“I’m a resident of Bainbridge Island, but I’m also a citizen of Washington state,” he said. “For tax purposes, it makes better sense right where it is.”

Reclaim Our Waterfront members disagree, citing a 2001 study mandated by the state Legislature that recommended moving the yard. The study was cast aside after WSF performed its own study and concluded the yard should stay put.

ROW members say WSF has become too cavalier in its decisions affecting the island and failed to adequately consider the yard’s impacts on the community.

The group also cites a history of agreements and legal decisions setting aside a portion of the yard’s land for a public boat haul-out facility, which ROW members say WSF has failed to adhere to.

“Our city government and Legislature need to be reminded of WSF’s continuous pattern of broken agreements,” Doerschuk said.

Harbor Commission member Bob Selzler said ROW may have “two arguments wrapped up together” in its advocacy for both the maintenance yard’s removal and keeping the ferry system to agreements to carve out a portion of it for a boat haul-out facility.

“If they move totally, there’s never going to be a boat yard,” he said. “It’d become a commercial development, because somebody would buy it.”

Jacques agreed with ROW members that WSF should respect its agreement to provide a boat haul-out and should pay closer attention to island residents’ desires.

“I don’t like the idea of being dictated to by WSF,” he said. “They need to listen to us.”

Jacques and other commission members said they would not endorse a resolution backing the maintenance yard’s removal, but expressed support for a statement calling on WSF to allow greater input from the commission and island residents.

* * * * *

ROW the boats

The new group Reclaim Our Waterfront has launched a website with information on its campaign, including a petition drive, at www.reclaimourwaterfront.org.

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